'Sandwich generation' often overwhelmed caregiving for both young children, older parents

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 23% of U.S. adults are part of the sandwich generation and the group is expanding.

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Tuesday, December 12, 2023
'Sandwich generation' caring for both young children, older parents
The 'sandwich generation' is often overwhelmed caregiving for both young children, older parents simultaneously

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's an issue impacting millions of American families - caregiving for our young and our elderly. The 'sandwich generation' refers to adults, mostly women, who are looking after their older parents and their children at the same time.

"My dad was diagnosed in 2017. He was 65 years old. My kids were ages 9, 11, and 12 at the time of diagnosis," said Melanie Cutillo of Gilbertsville, Montgomery County.

The diagnosis was Alzheimer's disease and it began a journey for daughter and mom that was both heartbreaking and stressful.

"My dad worked at PECO for 40 years, lived in Philadelphia, was this big, strong (man) and to watch him deteriorate to what he was, was awful," she said.

Melanie became the caretaker for her dad and also her three young children.

"I mean, it was definitely challenging," she said. "It was an exuberant amount of stress, to the point where I started to have panic attacks, because I was like, this is just overwhelming."

Melanie's parents lived an hour away and one challenge was sheer logistics.

"I would say the other challenge is feeling torn between doing things for my kids, being present at their hockey games, or whatever that may be. And then also feeling like I need to be with my parents and help them and that was me putting that on myself. No one else per se. But that was probably a challenge for sure," she said. "And then this past year, we were overly challenged with my husband getting diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer in January."

That diagnosis came just three months before Melanie's father passed in April.

"It's hard to really take time for myself just at this moment with what we all have going on," she said.

Melanie is part of the sandwich generation - those caring for a parent 65 years or older as well as themselves and in some cases, a spouse and at least one minor or adult child.

Studies show mothers feel more stress than any other group in the sandwich generation.

"I think it's important to have support from others to realize what you have going on," said Melanie.

Melanie says to be transparent about your situation and up front about what you need from your family, neighbors, friends, colleagues and bosses.

'Sandwich generation' overwhelmed caregiving for both young children, older parents simultaneously

Navigating the stress and financial challenges

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 23% of U.S. adults are part of the sandwich generation and the group is expanding as life expectancy rises.

Plus, as people are having children later and providing financially for adult kids in growing numbers, more people are being sandwiched for a longer time.

More than 60% of those in the sandwich generation say they are stressed about the cost of caring for their parents, themselves and their children.

"One of my biggest things is educate yourself. You know, when you have this diagnosis, it's kind of like, what do you do next? What do I do first, I don't know," said Melanie. "One of my advice would be to protect what they've worked so hard for, right? Protect their assets, protect their financials, go to an elder lawyer. Make sure you have power of attorney or, or at least, at a minimum, a medical living will."

"There are a lot of financial therapists out there who can actually help ease these money conversations and looking for a financial therapist can make a lot of sense," said financial wellness expert Miranda Marquit.

They can help mediate and guide your conversation. And conversation is key, but Marquit says to make sure you're strategic about how and when you have that discussion.

"One of the things that you can do is say: 'Hey let's set aside some time for this, let's all prepare ahead of time for this.' and kind of make it more of an appointment," she suggests.

And while you should rely on experts for financial advice for mental and emotional assistance, turning to groups of your peers can be helpful.

"I followed one on Facebook. And it was for Alzheimer's and dementia. It was a support group and it was just a place for people to go on and either ask advice or vent or say: 'Is your loved one doing this and are they doing that?'," said Melanie.

Melanie says we can all derive strength in simply knowing we are not alone.

"Someone else's suffering the same thing, or I could share the same experience and say, 'You're doing all the right stuff.' This is the best we can do with what we have," she said.

Melanie is now using her lived experience to help others who find themselves in the same situation.

"I am writing a workbook," she said. "Give you a guide of where to start, you know, what are my first steps? How do I do this? What do I tackle first? Because it's a lot. It's not a book where you sit and read. I want it to be interactive, there's going to be pictures. It's going to be easy to read and help people understand the disease progression, the signs and symptoms and it's going to give you a guide of where to start."

Sandwich Generation Resources: