What you need to know about the so-called ‘sandwich generation’

Photo courtesy of Gary Family

Last April, Patti Gary and her husband John couldn’t wait for the fall. They were building their dream home, they had a new grandson on the way, and they had finally managed to talk Patti’s mother into downsizing to a one-story home on the next block.

“The best-laid plans,” Patti says with a sigh.

The house that was supposed to be finished in September was delayed for months because of supply chain issues. The Garys had already sold their home, so most of their furnishings, including all their new purchases, went into storage. The builder had taken on several other projects, and his crews were busy elsewhere. When the Garys were finally able to move in at the end of October, much of the builder’s punch list items were unfinished.

“We just gritted our teeth and tried to be patient,” Patti says, “but by then, life had taken another turn.”

In August, their new grandson had been born with trisomy 13, a severe genetic syndrome that meant long hospital stays and several surgeries. Little Huck needed constant care and medical attention, and his three-year-old brother, Foster, soon began begging for attention and acting out. The Garys immediately stepped in to ease their daughter Hilary’s burdens.

“We take Foster home with us for days at a time,” Patti says. “When Huck is in the hospital, Hilary can devote her full attention to him.”

Adjusting to this new lifestyle became even more of a challenge when Patti’s mother fell inside her new house and broke her patella. Because of the severity of the break, she entered a rehab facility quite a distance from the Garys’ new home.

“My mother is in her nineties, and she just doesn’t understand why I’m not there with her as much as she wants me to be.”

Patti hasn’t tried to explain the situation with Huck to her mother yet. 

“She is in pain, she is in a strange place, and she feels neglected, which is totally understandable, but I can’t make it better,” Patti says. 

Patti and John are new members of what’s called the Sandwich Generation, a term that refers to adults who are taking on the responsibilities of caring for not only their own children and grandchildren but also their aging parents.

According to seniorliving.org, almost forty-seven percent of adults in their forties, fifties and sixties are raising their children or supporting an adult child while assisting their elderly parents both financially and emotionally. The term “Sandwich Generation” has become so common that it now appears in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The medical and legal concerns that come with it take a physical and emotional toll on caregivers.

“Sandwiched caregivers come from all walks of life,” says Rachel Hiles, founder of nonprofit Sandwiched KC. “We belong to every demographic—all racial and religious groups, all income levels and all zip codes.”

Sandwiched KC helps caregivers in the metro area by “providing information and referral, support groups, education and self-care activities. Our mission is to create opportunities for family caregivers to find local support and shared wisdom.”

This nonprofit’s website has information regarding training and workshops, support groups that meet both on Zoom and in person, a resource portal and tips to make this very demanding job easier. Contact Sandwiched KC by email at info@sandwichedkc.com or by phone at 816-472-9178.

Amy Goyer, AARP’s caregiving expert, reminds caregivers that they can do anything, but they can’t do everything. The feeling of isolation and that no one else can do the job is typical, but with so many people in this situation, asking for help is both reasonable and inevitable.

“I know so many friends who ask if they can do something,” Patti says, “and now I’m finally realizing that it’s okay to say, ‘Yes, you can.’”

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