The Stress of the Sandwich Generation; Feeling Squeezed?


Reading Time: 4 minutes

by Joni

This is a much newer phenomenon than the invention of the sandwich, but the word ‘sandwich’ symbolises the stress of a modern generation of women. Squeezed between the demands of under 18-year-old children and elderly parents, this sandwich generation feels as squeezed as ham, cheese and pickles must do.

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, nearly 40% of 35–54-year-olds feel this squeeze created by family demands. Women are working more, having children later and the life expectancy is much longer. This means that a woman can be a parent to growing children at the same time as having parents needing attention, as well as trying to work full time. Sandwiched people are usually women who have always done the bulk of the caregiving in life.

Sandwiched Women wear Many Hats

A sandwich generation woman has to wear many hats; wife, lover, mother, carer, employee, cook, cleaner, chauffeur and more. In fact, it seems she never has any down time to not wear a hat. Even in bed it’s not over. Husbands still expect sexual exploits and with children and older parents she is on call 24/7.

Years ago, there was always a spinster daughter, like Beatrix Potter, to live at home and care for the parents as they aged. But now with women working and parents living beyond eighty, any daughter, even an unmarried one can feel the squeeze of demands.

Add to this the digital age that challenges many oldies. The world has changed so much in twenty years. Computers, mobiles are now essential. But failing eyesight and lack of skills mean daughters must step in to pay bills, arrange medical care, etc. Not all over sixties can shop online for groceries. It takes computer skills. Teaching parents the basics even, requires enormous patience.

Psychology Today gives a good overview of the accumulated stress of the sandwich effect.

Being A Sandwiched Woman

I feel tired just writing about this but am writing about it from first-hand experience. As an older first mother, due to a career, I had my first child at 36 then another at 40. By then my parents were 66 and 73 and on the wane health-wise, especially my mother who has Multiple Sclerosis. She is still alive at 99 and my father died at 99. Now my children are 30 and 32.

Haha. This is not one of those mathematics problems to guess how old I am, but you can calculate my age if you like. I share this situation to illustrate the sandwich and how I was in the middle for so long and to a lesser extent now. Unbelievably now, I see what went wrong, looking back after my whole life fell apart due to the stress of it all.

Crazy Woman, Crazy Life

Like so many women, I was trying to be everything to everyone, and in the end, I ran away and had a meltdown. Silly as it seems, I home-schooled my children all the way through to year 10 and 12, as well as tutoring part-time, ferrying parents around and caring for a lazy husband, large house, a dog, two rabbits, five guinea pigs and a batch of chooks. I had no cleaner, cooked everything from scratch and somehow smiled for years.

It really is laughable how much I did each day. The kids could have helped clean their pet’s cages, the work-from-home husband could have driven my daughter to tap, jazz and ballet lessons, or the son to debating and tennis. Instead, I like so many women, took it all on, running around like one of my hairy rabbits, multi-tasking, juggling hats, as we do. None of my loved ones thought to offer help, but never failed to ask what was for dinner.

The children are now adults, mum is in a nursing home, I moved on after a divorce, but now the new husband is getting health problems and dementia! Arrgh! Is there no end to it. Seemingly not.

Me Space is Precious

Women’s personal ‘me space’ is limited and precious. Somehow you, the woman, mother, wife, carer, daughter has to find time-out from it all. Once you realise this and I did not for many years, you can try to prioritise yourself at least some of the time. Do something you enjoy; read, go for a walk, do some laps, go to a show or just have coffee with a girlfriend.

Delegate Chores

As well as this, try to delegate chores and duties to someone else less busy. Could your teenage or grown daughter sit with Nan or Pop for a while, take them shopping, fetch their pharmacy needs? Could your husband share in the driving around, the shopping or dare you ask help with the housework? If the children are still at home past 18 years then they need to chip in physically and financially. You can’t wait on them past childhood.

Is there a place your parents can go every now and then to give you a break? There are respites available in nursing homes. They probably won’t like it, it’s not home, but it will give you a much-needed break. Eventually, they, fighting tooth and nail, will have to go into one if they are mentally or physically challenged. They won’t talk to you for six months, but enjoy the break. These things will pass and before you know it you will be sixty yourself. Sorry.

Look after yourself! Gotta go, still juggling a few too many hats.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; and has her own website;

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