The Sandwich Generation: Balancing Work, Family, & Elder Care



The Sandwich Generation: Adult Children Balancing Work, Family, & Elder Care 

Currently, a quarter of adult children, mainly baby boomers, provide personal and financial care to a parent. Many adult children also find themselves balancing the responsibilities of working with raising a family and caring for an aging parent. Lost wages, increased illness, and extreme fatigue are effecting more and more Americans today.

The Workplace

For the family caregiver who is working while raising a family and caring for an aging parent, coming home can feel like clocking in for another shift, as you juggle competing needs on your time and resources. Adult children often experience absenteeism or reduced hours at work, lack of focus, stress, and increased illness. Lost wages can make a huge impact on adult children as well. As many are financially helping support their parents, they are also taking a blow to their own finances as they are leaving the workplace early. The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of working caregivers of parents are nearly $3 Trillion. For women, who are more commonly the primary caregiver for an aging loved one, the total individual amount of lost wages, social security, and benefits due to leaving the labor force early due to caregiving responsibilities equals $324,004 per person. For men, the number is $238,716 per person. Adult children who work and provide care to a parent are also affected physically as they tend to suffer from increased chronic illness and poorer health overall.

An Aging Workforce

According to the National Study for the Changing Workforce, 75% of people 50+ expect to work past age 65. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next 19 years, our workforce and ideas around retirement will be reshaped dramatically. According to the Social Security Administration, the average Social Security Yearly Payment is only $14,000. Many older adults must continue to work to remain financially solvent. Jobs have changed dramatically as well to include more critical thinking, interpersonal skills, telecommuting, and less hard labor. With our longevity we have the emergence of a new phase of adulthood where people are still healthy and productive members of the workforce. We need to reinvent our assumptions of old age and develop new models of aging for the 21st century. Everyone benefits from communities, workplaces and societies that encourage active and visible participation of older people. The big picture of our aging society is that more and more people are living longer. More and more people are working longer. More and more people are working while caring for aging parents.

If you are one of the millions working and helping care for a parent, here are 10 tips to help you find the balance and navigate your needs and work.

Top 10 Ways to Find the Balance 

No. 1 Ask your HR department about employee assistance programs available to you. They may include eldercare coaching, counseling and other resources.

No. 2 Familiarize yourself with your FMLA rights. A brief medical leave may be an option for dealing with a family medical crisis.

No. 3 Ask about your PTO, sick time, flex time, and bereavement to see how it can be used when caring for a loved one. You can also ask what benefits are available to you such as eldercare coaching, telecommuting, support groups, or community resources for family caregivers.

No. 4 Communicate with your manager about your new eldercare responsibilities. Be honest about your needs. If you are up front about your circumstances, they are better able to work with you.

No. 5 Seek professional help and delegate. You can’t do everything alone. Don’t neglect your own needs even for a short period of time. There are many care options and resources available to you.

No. 6 Follow a regular self-care plan. It is only by taking good care of yourself that you are able to take good care of others. Consider creating a list of activities that care for you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Choose something every day that addresses each of these needs. Having the list ready will help you choose even when you’re tired.

No. 7 Keep as regular of a sleep, healthy eating, and exercise pattern as possible. This will help maintain your energy and create a sustainable model of care. When you are physically drained and burned out it can make emotional and stressful situations more difficult to manage.

No. 8 Schedule family activities in advance. Having something set for a later time will help your family and/or children understand when you need to give attention to an aging loved one. For example, you can say, “I need to help grandma right now, but I’m looking forward to going to the park on Friday and spending time together.”     

No. 9 Find ways to express yourself. Whether that is through writing, a support group for caregivers, counseling, or just talking with friends, it is important to process the complex emotions that are associated with caring for a loved one or parent. In moments when you feel like your life is being eclipsed by the needs of your family, expressing your experience can help you claim your own voice and choice in the situation.

No. 10 Coming home from work can feel like clocking in for your second shift when caring for a parent. Create a space in your home that is all yours that can still have those elements of safety, comfort, relaxation, and rejuvenation. It could be a corner of the yard, a bathtub, a desk, whatever signals to your mind and body that you can have a reprieve from work and aren’t always on the clock. Ask for help from family members to allow for uninterrupted time in the places you define as “home”.  

Getting Help from the Professionals:

As more and more healthcare is happening at home, it is important to know your options for care. The values of aging in place can still be honored and protected, while not burdening family for the total responsibility of care.

Sound Options is committed to assisting families in early planning and equipping them to have difficult conversations together. We are available to relieve working caregivers with home care including transportation to doctor’s appointments to minimize missed work. Our RN and MSW Geriatric Care Managers are guiding working adult children through the healthcare maze, minimizing stress. We’re here when you need us. More information at or give us a call at 800.628.7649. 


Published on June 27, 2013.