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Meet the Sandwich Generation


Doing Everything for Everyone

When Concetta Fitton of Miller Place, NY, became her father's caregiver, she expected the doctor's appointments and pharmacy runs. “But I could not believe the paperwork,” she says. Fitton reviewed wills, applied for pension benefits, and changed bank accounts. She's also a mom of two, a 5- and an 8-year-old with their own extracurricular schedules. “My kids are my first priority, but sometimes it's a scramble.”

A lot of sandwich generationers feel pressure to do everything for everyone in their nest. That's a first-class ticket to a guilt trip, says Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and family counselor in New York City. “Guilt is a normal response, but in order to help either generation,” says Dorfman, “you have to meet your own needs.” Find an outlet: exercise, plan a regular girls' night out, find private time with your spouse. “Prioritize your own physical and mental health first.” To avoid burnout, suggests Gelman, don't just ask friends and family for help; ask them to help with specific tasks.

Hand-Me-Down Life Lessons

While the challenges are great, there are benefits—for all generations. In the APFM survey, nearly 41 percent cited the opportunity to reciprocate the care they received growing up as a plus. “A lot of people say it must be very hard taking care of my mother, my daughter, and my business,” says Monika Hengesbach, who owns a tax practice in Pleasant Hill, CA. “But knowing that my mom doesn't have to worry about being alone when she's sick is the greatest gift I can give her.”

When the time comes for my family, my kids will witness empathy in action and caring come full circle, a lesson that's not lost on Fitton's children. “My kids have a greater understanding of love and responsibility,” Fitton explains. “They see that sometimes parents and grandparents need help, and because we love them, we do whatever we can to take care of them.”

It's bonding on a whole new level, Gelman explains. “These situations really expand a child's mind-set and avail them to think a little less about themselves,” she says, “if only for a moment.”

Plus: The Sandwich Generation At A Glance. Here's the takeaway:

  • 1 in 5 are under 40
  • 3 in 10 Hispanic adults care for a parent and a child, compared with 24% of whites and 21% of blacks.
  • Households earning $100,000 or more a year are most likely to be in the sandwich generation.
  • 31% say they are very happy with their lives, compared with 28% of all adults.