Magazine article American Nurse Today

Helping Sandwich Generation Nurses Find a Work-Life Balance: Learn about the Support and Resources Available for Nurses Caring for Both Grown Children and Aging Parents

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Helping Sandwich Generation Nurses Find a Work-Life Balance: Learn about the Support and Resources Available for Nurses Caring for Both Grown Children and Aging Parents

Article excerpt

IF YOU HAVE at least one parent age 65 or older and are raising children or financially supporting a child age 18 or older, you're part of the Sandwich Generation. Coined in 1981 by social worker Dorothy Miller, the term originally referred to women, generally in their 30s and 40s, who were "sandwiched" between young kids, spouses, employers, and aging parents. While the underlying concept remains the same, over time the definition has expanded to include men and to encompass a larger age range, reflecting the trends of delayed childbearing, grown children moving back home, and elderly parents living longer. The societal phenomenon of the Sandwich Generation increasingly is linked to higher levels of stress and financial uncertainty, as well as such downstream effects as depression and greater health impacts in caregivers.

If you're a nurse and make your living as a caregiver, the Sandwich Generation may feel like a club you don't really want to belong to. Perhaps you've fantasized about quitting your job, leaving your family behind, and decamping to an exotic South Seas island. Of course, you know you're unlikely to do that. But you also need to avoid the opposite extreme: trying to avoid thinking about your multiple caregiving roles and just soldiering on, typical of many nurses. The impact of caregiving is real and tangible. It must be taken seriously and approached in a way that protects the caregiver's physical, mental, and financial well-being.

Physical and mental health effects

In a 2007 "Stress in America" report, the American Psychological Association found that Sandwich Generation mothers ages 35 to 54 felt more stress than any other group as they tried to balance giving care to both growing children and aging parents. Nearly 40% reported extreme levels of stress (compared to 29% of 18--to 34-year-olds and 25% of those older than 55). Women reported higher levels of extreme stress than men and felt they were managing their stress less effectively. This affected their personal relationships; 83% reported that relationships with their spouse, children, and other family members were the leading source of stress. Stress also took a toll on their own well-being as they struggled to take better care of themselves.

Another study focusing exclusively on health-related issues found employed family caregivers had significantly higher rates of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease across all ages and both genders. Depression was one-third more prevalent in family caregivers than non-caregivers, and stress in general and at home was higher across all age and gender cohorts. (See A perfect storm for the Sandwich Generation.)

Reaching out for help

No doubt, some of you reading this article are living the Sandwich Generation experience. As a nurse, you may find it hard to reach out for help and support. But that's the most important first step--acknowledging that not only is it okay to ask for help, but it's critically important. Asking for help may reduce the stress associated with fulfilling your responsibilities at home and at work. Nurses talk a lot about the importance of a work-life balance; such a balance is essential to coping effectively with the many demands faced by nurses, especially those of the Sandwich Generation.

What does it really mean to balance work and life? In our practice, we see nurses come to us for help when they feel overwhelmed; many have multiple presenting issues. As we work with them, we learn these issues sometimes are linked. For instance, financial stress can lead to family or relationship strains. Stress, anxiety, and depression can result from juggling too many home and work demands. Being responsible for dependent children or supporting an out-of-work spouse or partner can be daunting. The additional support that grown children and aging parents require can push even the most resilient nurses past their tipping point. …

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