Millennials. Baby Boomers. Those are common generational labels you’re used to hearing about. But, the sandwich generation? Well, that’s probably not quite as familiar. And, no, it doesn’t refer to a generation that lived off of just sandwiches (although, honestly, that doesn’t sound half bad).
If you’ve heard the term before and have only been able to respond with a confused, “Huh?”, have no fear! We’ve got everything you need to know about the sandwich generation right here.
What exactly is the sandwich generation?
When you break it down, the concept is actually quite simple. The sandwich generation refers to people—typically in their 30s or 40s—that are simultaneously responsible for the care of their own children, as well as the care of their aging parents. These people must act as parents and caretakers for their own kids, but also to their own parents.
Why is it called the sandwich generation?
While your thoughts might immediately jump to someone in the kitchen preparing sandwiches for both their parents and their kids, kitchen duties aren’t responsible for the naming of this group of people. Instead, it refers to the conflicting responsibilities that adults in this group constantly need to navigate between.
They need to ensure that they’re fulfilling the duties of child-rearing. But, at the same time, they want to ensure their own parents are taken care of—causing them to feel sandwiched between the two different identities.
When was the name created?
The term “sandwich generation” was coined by Dorothy Miller, a social worker, back in 1981. However, the phrase wasn’t added to traditional dictionaries until 2006, likely because the role has become even more common in recent years.
What stressors do people in the sandwich generation deal with?
As you can imagine, being a caregiver for your children and your parents at the same time isn’t easy. And, there are numerous stressors that come along with the title. These include:
Being a caretaker involves many things—but money is definitely one of the big ones. When adults are left to provide care for both their children and their parents (and in some rare cases, also grandchildren!) it undoubtedly takes a toll financially. In fact, many middle-aged adults have had to push off their own retirement in order to foot the hefty bills for their families.
Lack of Time
While money can be an issue, so can time. Anyone who has ever raised a family will tell you that it’s a busy lifestyle. With schooling and extracurriculars, you’ll often find yourself frantically running from place to place. Add needing to care for aging parents on top of that, and suddenly you’re constantly pressed for time.
Needless to say, those two big stressors can lead to depression in these adults who feel like they have so many people depending on them. In fact, estimates of the percentage of caregivers reporting symptoms of depression range from 20% all the way up to 50%.
Whether you’re a member of the sandwich generation yourself or know someone who is, it’s important to recognize that it can be a tough and trying spot to be in. Caregiving is undoubtedly a selfless act, but that doesn’t mean it comes without a cost.