Sandwich Generation

The term "sandwich generation" refers to people who are caring for their own children while also taking responsibility for the care and maintenance of their elderly parents. Members of the sandwich generation are generally baby boomers, and this phenomenon is largely due to the impact of delayed childbearing on life patterns. The traditional sandwich arrangement is when children are still in the home and elderly parents have moved in, placing the middle generation in the dual-role of actual caretaker. However, members of the sandwich generation include any people in charge of taking care of both their parents and their grandparents, so that it can include any person cast in the role of a dual caregiver, not only baby boomers. Furthermore, there is more at work in the sandwich generation than just baby boomers delaying their childbearing years. The current generation of elderly people has a greater life expectancy than prior generations. However, that greater life expectancy also means that generation may require more intense care than prior generations. Finally, the trend of delayed childbearing and greater life expectancies means that successive generations are likely to feel greater dual-caregiving obligations.

The sandwich phenomenon does not impact baby-boomers equally; instead it has a disproportionate impact on women, who already carry most of the responsibility for childcare. "Currently, the typical American Sandwich Generation Caregiver is in her mid-forties, married, employed and cares for her family and an elderly parent, usually her mother" (Bogolea, 2008). However, caregivers are spread across the community, and caregivers face similar struggles and challenges. One of the primary stressors is that the caregiver has competing demands. Caregivers ask themselves how to split time between their children and elder family member; how much time is too much in each role; how to find time for their marriages; how to find time for themselves; how to keep peace between the children and the elderly relative; how to find the needed resources for elder care; how to combat feelings of isolation; and how to deal with guilt when not able to meet everyone's expectations (Bogolea, 2008). Furthermore, although many cultures have shared-homes as a cultural norm, the norm in the United States is the nuclear family. Therefore, having a sandwich situation can create a pretty serious disruption in life and expectations for people put into the caretaker position. "People in their 30s and 40s are in a time of progress. They settle down into productive careers. They might buy their first home, or get married...For individuals in their 50's...the thought of retirement is close enough to almost grab. These individuals may be looking forward to retirement, travel, and relaxation after years of raising children and working" (Chait, 2009). For these people, having their elderly relatives move into their homes or beginning to rely on them for care marks a significant change in life-direction. Furthermore, while many people feel as if they are compelled to become caregivers for their elderly parents, which is not something that experts agree about. In fact, Cunningham actually issues the following warning: "Be careful taking on the responsibility of another person's life. Even when you love that person. Statistically, when it is another full time job on top of your 'regular' job, you become the next person who needs help" (2005).

For many people, the problem is that caregivers do not always have an available support network. In fact, many of these problems can be either eased or compounded, depending on where a person resides. While many sandwich generation families live in urban areas, an increasing number of them live in rural areas. These people face special problems, because they:

may find themselves removed from readily available and professionally organized supportive services and care networks. They may also find themselves not only carrying the normal burdens that are associated with providing care for a loved one, but also they may be faced with challenges such as geographic barriers to resources and isolation from other caregivers, family members or informal supports. This lack of service availability, care networks, and isolation from other caregivers and family members can add to caregiver stress, burnout, and depression (Bogolea, 2008).

While the sandwich generation specifically refers to people with children and elderly parents in the home, it generally refers to people who have an extended period of dual caregiving. Rogerson and Kim investigated the impact of this delayed child bearing to examine the duration of caregiving periods. They found that:

Members of the baby-boom cohort typically had first…