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Caring for aging parents, as well as your children, can take a toll if you don’t put yourself first

Millions of Americans are providing care for young children and aging parents (and millions more will likely join them, as the number of people who are 65 or older is projected to increase by 2050, and Americans are having children later).

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults are members of the “sandwich generation”. These are individuals with children under 18 or are providing financial support to an adult child and having a parent over the age of 65.

The survey consisted of a random sampling of approximately 10,000 adults and shows that adults in their 40s and 50s are the ages that this family situation was most common. For adults in their 40’s, 54% stated that the sandwich generation requisites were reflective of their current family environment. For people over the age of 50, 36% reported that they met the criteria.

Despite the many challenges of caring for children in unison with providing support for an aging parent, respondents who identified as a member of the sandwich generation reported greater satisfaction with their family life (48% vs. 43%) than those who are not. The difference is even greater for the largest group of the sandwich generation, those in their 40s, with 49% stating they were very satisfied with their family life versus 38% of those who are not.

The stress of being a dual caregiver can be significant, especially on those who are also working, struggling financially or dealing with other challenges.

An inference to be drawn from this piece of data is that though there are numerous stressors upon this cohort, the intangibles of connection between the family’s generation more than makes up for the additional responsibilities.

The healthy family unit is a critical component of society. With variables such as increased life expectancy, the decreasing size of the nuclear family, and the steep rise in costs of housing, healthcare, and education, public policy is needed to address a new era of demography and family structure.

 Tips for Navigating Life in the “Sandwich Generation”

  1. Have open and honest discussions about finances with your parents and siblings.
  2. Be proactive in creating a savings “emergency fund.”
  3. Set boundaries for both physical and mental space – and time.
  4. Recognize stress and stressors, and take steps to alleviate them.
  5. Learn about professionals and organizations that can provide assistance.
  6. Share care obligations for your parents with others (siblings, professionals, etc.) so you are able to spend quality time with your loved ones.
  7. Be as good to yourself as you are to your parents and children.

As the United States continues its arc in the unprecedented growth in numbers of older adults, the arc of the growth of the sandwich generation will climb as well. A smart policy that expands the availability of community-based supports and services that maximize the potential for older adults to maintain health and wellbeing within their home communities benefits all members of the family.

The San Diego Seniors Community Foundation is embarking on a mission to transform the aging services network so that every older San Diegan, and their families, have the support to thrive. Let us know if you want to help create the infrastructure to support older adults in San Diego.

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