Sandwich caregivers – All you need to know
Caregivers are everywhere. Take a moment to think about the people who served as the primary caregivers in your life while growing up. Maybe it was your mom, dad or grandparents. Maybe it was a babysitter or nanny. Maybe your favorite teacher was an influential caregiver for you if your family members weren’t as close to you or as present as they could have been. Maybe it was a sibling or cousin. Our primary caregivers shape us and hugely influence our whole being. We start our lives with them, and then later in life, when we begin to age, we might need other caregivers.
From primary caregivers to caregivers taking care of an aging or sick family members, family caregivers are necessary and important in every society. Unfortunately, their duties are often perceived as expected to be done without question, and their work is not adequately recognized.
The largest group amongst caregivers are so-called sandwich caregivers. Sandwich caregivers is the name given to the caregivers who care for both younger and older loved ones simultaneously. This may include children and elderly family members, like parents or grandparents.
All generations have different needs and demands, and sandwich caregivers are pulled in many directions. They have to take care of literally everything: their jobs, cooking, household chores, finances, parenting, schooling, health care, and assistance to the elderly. In helping the aging family members, during the time, the load of duties grows, as they start to need more help with the activities of daily life – from basic help in day-to-day living to full assistance, with health and medication management, getting dressed, bathing and getting around. This all goes beyond family responsibilities and providing care – sandwich caregivers are oftentimes the financial and emotional support for their family members.
Although this type of caregiving is quite common, it has not always been recognized as one that requires a unique type of support. Many adults who are part of the sandwich generation can be at the limit of their possibilities. To balance all of that is a challenging task.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly half of sandwich caregivers in the USA report having financial pressures and difficulty finding the help of any kind. Most of them have live parents age 65 and older and are raising a child under the age of 18 or financially assisting an adult child.
Who is an average sandwich caregiver?
As this type of caregiving has become more recognized, there have been more studies done on the common demographic for sandwich caregiving. Sandwich caregivers are most likely to be women, middle-aged, married, employed, and caring for her children and an elderly parent. However, while this role is currently assigned most commonly to women, it is becoming increasingly more accepted among men as well.
According to Pew Research Center survey, sandwich caregivers are mostly middle-aged:
are aged 40 to 59
are younger than 40
are age 60 or older
Additionally, individuals who live in rural areas are more likely to find themselves as sandwich caregivers as they are less likely to have access to professional services or other networks of support.
They not only act as caregivers for others in their lives, but they often have professional work responsibilities as well. They feel pressure to split their time amongst all their loved ones (children, elderly family members, spouse, themselves), and sometimes struggle to create generational peace in their lives. Their role can be isolating, and guilt often accompanies it if they feel they are not doing enough or are failing at what they are accomplishing, even though they are. As a result, it is common that sandwich caregivers experience stress, depression, and burnout due to their role.
How to create a balance if you are a sandwich caregiver?
If you’re a sandwich caregiver and feel that you are struggling, you are not alone. Sandwich caregiving comes with some common challenges, and here are some confirmed good tactics you might consider using.
Try to plan ahead and get organized. This is is crucial for everyone, but especially for sandwich caregivers since they have so many things going on. This will help you to stay focused and reduce stress. Include plan Bs too.
It’s okay if you can’t do it alone. No one can! Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people in your life like extended family, friends, neighbors, doctors, local social services, your church, or a support group. Help is everywhere if you’re willing to ask for it.
Communicate constantly. If you’re struggling with the generational peace or other misunderstandings in your little tribe, bring everyone together and discuss it. Encourage everyone to communicate openly about each one’s needs. Seeing different points of view will help more than you think. An open discussion can reset the expectations, ensure you are all fully participating and on the same page, with aligned goals.
Tell openly what YOU need. As much as you need others to communicate openly with you, you need to do it yourself too. Perhaps your family members are not aware of the pressure that you’re feeling and the stress and fears you are coping with. State your expectations from others, where and how they can participate and help. You are in this together, and the teamwork is crucial.
Put yourself first. And don’t feel guilty about it! Your role is crucial for your family, so ensuring that you’re in a good place is just as important as anybody else’s, if not more. Why? Because we all know that it is unrealistic to pour from an empty cup. The same way happens for caregiving: if you are not at your best, both physically and mentally, you cannot help others around you. It’s all connected, and the better you are, the better you can help the ones you love.
Your situation is ultimately unique, and you will need to adjust the practices that work for you. Don’t forget that there are various resources that can help you if you are struggling. Many people are going through the same, so reach out and ask for advice. There are always people in your community willing to help. Never hesitate to ask for assistance when you need it. You would be surprised where the help and support might come from.
P.S. If you recognize yourself as a sandwich caregiver, remember you are a superhero! You are doing what many can’t.