The Untold Struggles of the Sandwich Generation

The “Sandwich Generation,” caught between the dual demands of caring for aging parents and supporting their own children, finds itself navigating a complex web of financial, emotional, and logistical challenges. According to a Pew Research Center study, approximately one in seven US adults is providing assistance to both children and parents. Despite their vital role, support for this growing demographic remains painfully inadequate.

Though the desire to support aging loved ones remains strong, the task is becoming increasingly insurmountable. “In my Filipino culture, family is extremely important,” says Shiela Mie Legaspi, President of Cyberbacker. “However, the deep level of responsibility is a heavy stressor for the sandwich generation.”

The sandwich generation’s financial struggle

Supporting aging parents is a huge role to take on, especially when inflation is at an all-time high,” says Aaron Cirksena, retirement planning expert and CEO of MDRN Capital. “Costs associated with caregiving quickly deplete savings accounts, derail retirement funds, and  increase debt.”

A significant part of the financial burden involves rising healthcare costs. As medical advancements prolong life and extend the period when aging parents require care, many in the Sandwich Generation find themselves funding their parents’ medical bills, caregiving services, and everyday expenses.

“Baby Boomers are living longer and dealing with complex medical issues,” observes Asha Tarry, mental health practitioner, life coach, and founder of Care for Caregivers. “Many of us are raising children later in life exactly at the time when our aging parents also need help.”

On the other side, the soaring costs of education place another financial strain on this generation. Supporting children through higher education has become increasingly challenging, with tuition fees rising well beyond the rate of inflation.

On top of caregiving expenses, the sandwich generation faces its own financial challenges. Many are still paying off mortgages, while others are looking to downsize or support their children in entering an exceptionally challenging real estate market.

With financial resources spread thin, saving for retirement often takes a backseat. This scenario is particularly alarming given the uncertainties surrounding social security and pension plans. Many in the Sandwich Generation face the prospect of delayed retirement or a retirement period marked by financial instability.

The hidden emotional toll: Inside the lives of the Sandwich Generation

At the heart of the Sandwich Generation’s experience is caregiving, which brings inherent emotional challenges. Providing care for aging parents, particularly those with chronic illnesses or cognitive decline, is a source of immense stress and emotional pain. Watching parents age and struggle, roles reverse, and individuals must navigate the complex emotions accompanying this transition.

Simultaneously, Sandwich Generation caregivers are also parents themselves, tasked with raising children or supporting them into young adulthood. This dual caregiving role leads to a sense of being pulled in multiple directions, with the caregiver’s own needs and emotions often sidelined.

Members of the Sandwich Generation frequently mourn the loss of personal freedom and the alteration of future plans. Dreams of travel, hobbies, or simply having more time for oneself are frequently put on hold, leading to feelings of resentment or loss. This grief can be compounded by the realization that their retirement years may not be as they had once envisioned, affected by financial strains or continuing caregiving responsibilities.

Striving for work-life balance adds another dimension to the emotional turmoil of the Sandwich Generation. Many are at a crucial stage in their careers, facing pressures to excel professionally while being present for their families. The relentless pursuit of balance often leads to chronic stress and burnout, impacting both mental and physical health.

Caught in the middle: The support deficit facing the Sandwich Generation

One of the most glaring issues facing the Sandwich Generation is a lack of support. While financial systems like social security, Medicare, and child tax credits assist the elderly and the young, there is a noticeable absence of programs aimed specifically at the Sandwich Generation. 

Tarry urges employers to help employees stay ahead of these issues by integrating financial planning discussions into annual health insurance meetings. “If financial planning isn’t available in your company, hire a certified financial planner, attorney, wellness coach, or social worker to assist you. Begin these discussions early. Talk to an attorney about your estate plan, and talk to your parents to Make sure their plan is up-to-date and easy to locate. Don’t wait until you’re sick or caring for someone to start learning these things.”

Discussing financial limitations and expectations openly with both parents and children also helps manage demands and set realistic boundaries. Members of the Sandwich Generation must prioritize their economic well-being, as securing their financial future is in the best interest of their dependents.

“Start preparing your children to understand finances so they do not develop the mindset that you will always financially support them,” advises Cirksena. “Set boundaries and budget as a family. Work with a financial advisor to create a comprehensive financial plan that considers retirement goals, caregiving expenses, and long-term financial stability.”

The emotional weight borne by members of the Sandwich Generation is another area where support is glaringly deficient. Counseling and support groups specifically targeted toward the Sandwich Generation are not widespread, leading many to navigate these waters without professional support.

Workplace support is also lacking. Members of the Sandwich Generation may need flexible working hours, remote work options, or extended leave to care for family members. While some employers offer these accommodations, there is a lack of comprehensive policy support that mandates such flexibility. Many struggle to balance work responsibilities with caregiving duties, often at the expense of career advancement or financial stability. 

“The medical field needs to improve preventative care for caregivers,” Tarry remarks. “This demographic faces recurring burnout and complicated grief. Clinicians should be the bridge linking women to community resources such as financial planners, caregiver coaches, therapists, and other aids.” 

The challenges facing the Sandwich Generation are multifaceted. Addressing them requires policy changes, improved access to mental health services, and greater workplace flexibility. It’s time for a societal shift that provides more robust support and acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by those caught in the middle of this generational sandwich.

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