Are you a Sandwich Generation?

Do you have children and are fortunate to still have living parents age 65 or older?  Guess what? Welcome to the Sandwich Generation. 

The term "Sandwich Generation" was first introduced to the social work and gerontology communities in the early 1980’s to describe adults who were sandwiched between raising their children while taking care of their aging parents.  

Today, the Sandwich Generation make up a sizable population as noted by a 2013 Pew Research Center survey.  According to this study of 2,511 adults “Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older).”

I can only speculate this number will grow in the near future as people live longer and college graduates struggle with career search overburdened by student debt.  

 
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1) Emotional and Time Challenges of the Sandwich Generation

Caring for multiple generations is challenging.  My wife and I’ve struggled the past six years raising our two young children while cohabiting with my parents.  Thankfully both our children and my parents haven’t had any major health issues except for my father’s type 2 diabetes.  In addition, the joy of seeing the precious interaction between our children and my parents on a daily basis has been priceless.  

However, the emotional and time stress of being the caregiver for two generations take toll and I’d be lying if I was to say that we didn’t have doubts about our current living arrangement on multiple occasions:

  • Do I have enough time to make it to the work on time after dropping off my father at his physical therapy session?

  • Why do my parents leave the kitchen so messy after breakfast?  Don’t they know there are other people in this household?!

  • How many times have my mother woken up our daughter from her nap because she forgot to silence her phone?

  • I’m barely learning how to be a parent to my own children.  I don’t need unsolicited advice from my own parents!     

2) Importance of Having a Strong Financial Foundation

On top of emotional and time stress, many households struggle with the financial stress that comes with being the Sandwich Generation.  According to the Pew Research Center survey “about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.”  As you can imagine, paying for your own household needs, plus your parents medical bills on top of your kids school tuition can create some serious financial stress.

3) We Want to Not Just Survive but Thrive as the Sandwich Generation

My wife and I’ve had many conversations about our careers, our finances and what means to be this “Sandwich Generation.”  As children of 1st generation immigrants, we are very thankful to have reached our current career status in our thirties.

Growing up near a small South Korean fishing community in the 1980’s, I remember my mother commenting about how if I studied hard and did well in school I could one day work in an office that had air conditioning instead of just an air fan (as you can imagine, air conditioning was a big thing back then).  As I now sit in my downtown corporate office and look up to see the air condition vents, I can’t help but smile as I recall that memory. How how proud my mother must be!

I recall this story because despite the challenge of being a sandwich generation, we are thankful for the opportunity to be the sandwich generation.  It affords the opportunity to not only honor our parents for the many years of sacrifice they made for us, but to pass onto our children the importance of family and taking care of our elders.  

In addition, such memory solidifies for us the importance of being even more serious about managing our finances - because the money is not just for us, but for our children as well as our parents. Being healthy in our thirties and being able bring in a sizable income is a blessing.  And we know that the financial need for both our parents and children will only increase with time. Aging is already an emotionally tough process for both the aging and their children.  Our hope and desire is that when that time comes, instead of focusing on our finances, we can focus on each other.

Do you consider yourself a sandwich generation?  Have you experienced any emotional, time or financial stress associated with being the sandwich generation?