How the Sandwich Generation Can Persevere During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home measures have put stress on families in so many ways. While it’s certainly not a competition to see who among us is the most stressed out (because who really wants that prize?), perhaps no one is feeling it more intensely than the sandwich generation.

Never heard the term? The sandwich generation is made up of those parents who find themselves in the precarious situation of raising children while also caring for their own aging parents.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 1 in 7 middle-aged Americans provide financial support to both a child and a parent. But while most of the sandwich generation (71%) are adults ages 40 to 59, 19% are under the age of 40 and 10% are 60 or older.

And the phenomenon of caring for kids and aging parents is growing. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

[READ: Protect Your Family’s Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic.]

The pandemic has highlighted the responsibilities of the sandwich generation more than ever. Some of us have parents who are living in nursing homes, which brings its own set of poignant fears and worries. Others have parents who are aging in place and dealing with the isolating effects of living on their own in the COVID-19 era. Not only are they feeling lonely, but they’re often uncomfortable with the technology and delivery services available to connect them with the outside world.

This means that the sandwich generation is constantly teaching.

We’re teaching our kids how to take classes remotely and focus while sitting in the kitchen with a younger sibling making noise nearby. We’re teaching ourselves how to work from home while figuring out how to get dinner on the table for our families every single day of the week. We’re teaching our kids and teens the guidelines for staying safe, making sure everyone has face masks, and saying no to their too-soon attempts to escape from the house for social outings. And that’s just in our own homes.

We’re also teaching our elderly parents how to use FaceTime and Zoom to connect with friends and family outside the home. We’re doing whatever we can to be able to see our parents’ faces, check in on them and make sure they’re safe. We’re trying to help our parents accomplish everyday tasks, like having prescriptions delivered to their home so they don’t have to go to the pharmacy, logging into their banking apps, or setting up a grocery delivery. On top of all this, we’re constantly reminding and encouraging our older parents to take public health guidelines seriously.

As we teach our kids the reasoning behind social distancing and why it’s so important for our safety and to protect others from the coronavirus, we also find ourselves teaching these same lessons to our parents — sometimes over and over again. I’m not sure if it’s their sense of independence or the feeling that they’ve seen far worse than any of our generations have experienced, but many of our aging parents act as if they’ve got kryptonite in their pockets. Unfortunately, none of us do. So it’s up to us, the already stretched sandwich generation, to stay on top of things and make sure our kids and parents follow recommendations meant to keep us all safe.

[READ: Coping With Anxiety and Depression During the Coronavirus Pandemic.]

We want our parents around for many years to come, we tell them. So if they have to get their groceries delivered instead of making regular trips to the store, use an at-home hair coloring kit instead of going to the salon each week, or take their daily walks while wearing a face mask (or limit themselves to the stairs in their building), then so be it.

I heard a funny story the other day from a close friend whose mother-in-law has been staying with her daughter during the pandemic. The older woman asked her daughter if she could go to her favorite fish store to buy a piece of salmon, saying, “I just want to run in and get it.” The daughter told her mother that she couldn’t go to the fish store, but that they could get delivery or curbside pickup from the store. “OK,” the woman replied. But then she escaped out of her bedroom window and went to the store on her own anyway.

And then there’s the much more common story these days of the grandparents whose feelings are hurt when a grown child won’t bring the grandkids over to play. I’m sure we all know someone who’s experienced this recently.

If I’m honest, these challenges are a gift. Many of the elder generation we’re caring for find themselves in nursing homes, and that’s a very vulnerable community right now. To say that the caregivers in these homes are true heroes of the pandemic would not be enough. Each day, they’re caring for the parents we love so dearly and putting themselves at risk. To them we say thank you for helping the sandwich generation better balance our most important responsibilities during these tough times.

There’s a lot of juggling and multitasking going on right now. For the sandwich generation, it’s a challenge in the best of times to simultaneously care for our children and our parents. And this pandemic just handed us a whole new set of fears, restrictions, burdens and things to feel guilty about.

[READ: Co-Parenting During the Coronavirus Pandemic.]

We’re all feeling overwhelmed as we navigate this new world while caring for loved ones. So however you’re handling it, know that you’re doing a good job and you are appreciated — even if your parents grumble more than your kids when you insist on following public health recommendations.

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