Popular media often refers to the “sandwich generation” as the group of people ranging in age from their 30s to 60s who are “sandwiched” between caring for their aging parents and raising their own children.
This group of people is growing all over the world, and here in Israel too.
Why all the attention?
Founded as a country of immigrants, Israel had relatively few grandparents in the country for its first few decades of existence. Coming on the heels of the Holocaust and still rampant with health issues, the older generation was certainly respected, but their numbers were few.
Fast forward over half a century and Israel now merits a sizeable aging population. And it’s growing quickly.
People are living longer, healthier lives, and have higher expectations about their quality of life during their elder years (and rightfully so!) Simultaneously, the number of years older adults live with illness and disability has also increased, meaning that seniors often now need care for longer periods of time than in previous generations.
For the most part, responsibility for the care of aging parents falls on the shoulders of their adult children, bringing with it sometimes overwhelming financial, emotional and logistic strain. The situation can be exacerbated by the fact that, where once it was common for elderly parents to live under the same roof as their children and grandchildren, today they may not even live in the same city. Or the same country.
On the other side of the “sandwich” is the increasing number of responsibilities relating to raising children, and those don’t seem to be diminishing as children grow into adults. Statistics show that today, a record number of young adults, the “Boomerang Generation”, are remaining in their parents’ homes considerably longer than in previous generations, often relying on their parents for financial and emotional support.
All of this has created the phenomena of an overwhelmed middle generation, supporting both those older and younger than themselves for a potentially extended period of time.
No wonder we’re all burnt out.
The common challenges
Time off work
The unemployment rate in Israel is less than 4%. That means most Israeli adults are employed (which, as it turns out for those of us in the sandwich generation, is a double-edged sword.) By law, four days per year can be used by a worker for tending to an ill parent, but in reality, four days is insufficient to proactively manage an ailing parent’s care. Frustrations mount, as employers are often less than understanding of the challenges facing those of us attempting to manage both our children’s care and our parents’ care.
Finances are a major issue facing many in Israel. Beyond the cost of supporting young children, we may be covering or contributing to our grown childrens’ expenses including education, weddings and starting their own futures. When we become simultaneously responsible for footing the bill for our parents’ care, from assisted living facilities to medications to caregivers, the impact can be crippling.
Current knowledge of the rights and resources available for seniors and their caregivers can reduce some of the pressure, but in an effort to provide care for their aging parents, sandwichers often find themselves depleting their own financial reserves, sometimes even their own retirement funds.
Emotional and physical well-being
Either as a direct result of financial pressure, or due to other issues attached to being a sandwicher, many of us experience symptoms of depression at much higher rates than our non-caregiving counterparts. We have so much on our to-do lists that sleep and self-care become marginalized while tending to “everyone else’s” needs. What’s more, it is often difficult to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, as none of these demands seem to be disappearing any time soon.
How to face the challenges
- Be up front with your employer.
If you are looking at a long-term situation, be honest about your commitments if they’re going to take you away from work. There’s no need to spill all the details, but be frank and ready to work more hours at the times you are available, work from home, cut back to 2/3 time, or offer any other creative solutions you can think of.
- Hold a family meeting.
If your siblings are in multiple countries, use Skype or Google Hangouts to make sure you can all be there. Unless there is absolutely nobody else available in any capacity, duties should be split as evenly as possible. Aside from financing care, there is a lengthy list of time-consuming tasks that needs covering: helping your parent to handle and arrange his/her own finances, transporting and accompanying to medical appointments, phoning to make appointments (in Israel, especially, this takes more time than you may think), shopping trips, arranging some sort of social life with his/her peer group, keeping up a hobby or other interest, exercising, and assuring there are nourishing meals available.
- Consider getting help.
Carefully consider what type of help you will need. It could be that your parent is perfectly capable of taking care their own housekeeping. If not, that will need to be lined up, preferably before any sort of unsanitary situation presents itself. Will YOU need housekeeping help due to the amount of time you are now spending helping your parent? You may need to look into finding an eldercare worker or geriatric care manager to help manage the care.
Finding the right person for any of these tasks is a time-consuming project so if you can, split these tasks between siblings in order to keep the workload from overwhelming one person. If need be, consult with the neighborhood social worker. Calling the municipality involved and asking for the “revachah” department should connect you to a social worker who will have a better handle of what is available in your area.
Encourage your parent to be forthcoming about his or her own resources, while you must remain honest as well. “Be honest” is vital when detailing your own capabilities, commitments and limitations. Once you know what’s on the table in the way of both needs and resources, then you can realistically deal with arranging finances.
Make sure financial and legal documentation are all up to date. Does power of attorney need to be signed over? Does one or more of the children need to be a party to the parent’s bank account? Is the will or living will drawn up in full, legal standing?
Become aware of Bituach Leumi services and other rights that both you and your parent are eligible for. On top of those, there are numerous other “hidden treasures” when it comes to helping care for an elderly parent.
Taking care of yourself is NOT selfish! Just as you wouldn’t expect your cellphone to run without being charged, you need to fill your own physical and emotional needs in order to function properly. The following items should have non-negotiable entries in your datebook:
- Time with partner
- Time with children
- ALONE time – for a hobby, a run, a manicure…
- Purchasing and/or preparing healthy food for yourself
- Take breaks
- Laugh – find some humor somewhere
- Consider counseling
The last piece of advice we can share to all of you “sandwichers” is to find as many shoulders to lean on as possible. Surely, you aren’t the only one in your neighborhood, gym or synagogue dealing with this. Put some feelers out to find others in a similar situation. If you hang out on Facebook, consider joining our Sandwich Generation Israel Facebook group for emotional and practical support.