Academic journal article Family Relations

Aging Parents Helping Adult Children: The Experience of the Sandwiched Generation

Academic journal article Family Relations

Aging Parents Helping Adult Children: The Experience of the Sandwiched Generation

Article excerpt

Aging Parents Helping Adult Children: The Experience of the Sandwiched Generation*

The help that elders provide to their adult children has received limited attention in the caregiving literature. To address this gap, data were drawn from two samples of caregiving couples: 63 focus group participants and 618 survey respondents. Survey results indicated that help from aging parents is associated with a complex pattern of benefits and costs. Focus group data identified the kinds of help provided by older parents (i.e., financial, emotional, child care, and household tasks) and illuminated why caregivers experience such help as a mixed blessing. Suggestions are offered for practitioners who work with caregivers.

Key Words: caregiving, help-giving, intergenerational exchanges, reciprocity.

Adults who juggle work and family responsibilities are particularly vulnerable when they are caring both for children and for aging parents. Most of the early research focusing on this "sandwich generation" (Brody, 1985; Miller, 1981) has highlighted the negative aspects of caregiving. In general, the major conceptual framework that has guided caregiver research is a stress and coping model (Biegel & Schulz, 1999). Recently, however, gerontologists have expanded their purview to examine the potential benefits of providing care to elders (Scharlach, 1994; Walker & Allen, 1991). One relatively underexplored benefit is the help that elders provide to those who care for them. In this article, we examine the provision of help to working couples in the sandwiched generation by the aging parents for whom they provide care. In so doing, our research builds on previous efforts that highlight the benefits of caregiving and illuminates reactions to receiving help from aging parents.

Benefits of Caregiving

The literature on the benefits of caregiving augments the stress and coping perspective by characterizing caregiving as an experience that is rewarding as well as stressful. In a study on caregivers of depressed older adults, Hinrichsen, Hernandez, and Pollack (1992) identified a number of caregiving difficulties, including problematic relationships with the older care recipients, the pressures of competing responsibilities, and strained relationships with other family members. Nonetheless, these researchers also uncovered several benefits associated with caregiving, such as enhanced relationships with elders, improved family relationships, and a sense of gratification associated with being helpful. Similarly, in a study of caregiving daughters and their older mothers, Walker and Allen (1991) discovered a continuum of caregiving relationships ranging from conflictual to rewarding. The rewarding caregiving relationships were characterized by dyadic exchanges between the daughters and mothers that were mutually beneficial. In contrast, the conflictual relationships were characterized by a self-focused orientation and minimal reciprocal exchanges between mothers and daughters. Walker and Allen found that the daughters in these conflictual relationships often had competing responsibilities (e.g., employment and children) that may have contributed to the strain. A study by Scharlach (1994) focused specifically on the problems and benefits experienced by employed caregivers. On one hand, he identified a number of problematic aspects of caregiving, such as managing the elder's difficult behavior, lack of free time, and sadness about the elder's declining abilities. On the other hand, Scharlach noted several rewarding aspects of caregiving, including a sense of satisfaction derived from repaying elders for their previous care, enjoyment from spending time together with the elder, and appreciation for help provided by the elder. To uncover the benefits of caregiving, each of these studies used qualitative methods and asked open-ended questions about the caregiving experience. Our study combines qualitative and quantitative methods to focus on one benefit identified by this previous research: the help provided by the elder to the caregiver. …

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