Moving Beyond the Sandwich Generation

The term "sandwich generation" was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981 but was publicized by Carol Abaya, a nationally recognized expert in aging parent and eldercare issues. Her website provides a place where caregivers can find testimonials, information and research on caring for aging family members.

The term, "sandwich generation," primarily refers to individuals, typically in their 40s and 50s that are sandwiched between caring for elderly parents and their own children. Additionally, Carol Abaya has added the following terms to more specifically describe subsets:
Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. OR those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
(Term coined by Carol Abaya) 
 Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care.
(Term coined by Carol Abaya
The descriptions of the sandwich generation assumes that the individuals dealing with aging parents are most typically parenting older children, however, with the recent increase in maternal and paternal ages for first-time parents, those children are often much younger. Or, in other words, the Club Sandwich group is growing exponentially.

So, what does that mean for families?

In the past, young parents could count on the help of their family and their community in order to make it through the draining years of raising infants and toddlers. Now, however, with two-income families, older families, later retirement for grandparents and families separated by distance, that help is simply not there. Additionally, the American workforce has put little, to no emphasis on providing flexibility or job security for caregivers. With Americans delaying childbirth, they are increasing the chances that they will be caring for small children and aging parents simultaneously, thus doubling the strain of maintaining reliable income production.

So, what are we supposed to do?

Things like the Family Medical Leave Act, Short Term Disability, Flextime, telecommuting, job sharing, and part-time options are all fantastic starts to allowing family members to balance their work with their caregiving responsibilities. But, with more parents being sandwiched we need to expand those options.

9to5 is currently working on "the FAMILY Act, a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or their own medical needs." which would be a huge boon for families struggling to balance competing demands.

We also need to encourage companies of the value of embracing the benefitted part-time employee. By allowing workers time to meet their (often non-negotiable) caregiving responsibilities without stretching themselves so thinly, the company is ensuring a dedicated and focused worker.
A worker who feels valued will in turn value the company. A worker who feels cared for, will care in return. And if all else fails, a worker with strenuous caregiving responsibilities will not walk away from the rare gem that is quality part-time work.

I could quote the many studies that have proven that America's obsession with long hours actually equates to very little increase in actual productivity, but The Economist said it best with their article, "Proof that you should get a life." Cutting work hours just makes sense for everyone. We don't need to "prove" ourselves as dedicated worker bees by being present for long hours, we should judge and be judged on the quality and output of our work. By giving everyone a little breathing room, we may find it improves everyone's lives.

Take Action
  1. Click on the 9to5 link above and find out how you can take action to support the FAMILY Act.
  2. Encourage businesses and employers to embrace benefitted part-time work
  3. Find a family struggling with caregiving responsibilities and offer to help out in some small way
 We can only build our community one brick at a time, but change starts with you. When America can finally recognize the value of our workers as people and not just the bottom line, we all win.

And as always, remember to throw out Family Values and start Valuing Families!!