Prioritizing Self-Care as a Sandwich Generation Caregiver

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Tue May 16 2023.

Adult woman with mom and child.

Prioritizing Self-Care as a Sandwich Generation Caregiver

There are 2.5 million Americans providing care for both younger and older family members simultaneously. Known as the ‘sandwich generation,’ these family caregivers juggle multiple responsibilities, from childrearing and transportation to medication management and companionship.

Caregiving isn’t easy for anyone, but for members of the sandwich generation, the cost is particularly high. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry found that sandwich caregivers are:

  • Twice as likely to report financial difficulties

  • More likely to experience emotional difficulty

  • More likely to experience overload (feeling as if there’s never enough time in the day)

“When a person is caring for aging parents and children at the same time, the pressure grows exponentially more intense than when caring for only one or the other,” said Laura Herman, a dementia behavior support consultant who deeply understands the challenges of prioritizing self-care in the face of overwhelming caregiver responsibilities.

“Not only are there even more tasks to squeeze into even less time, but the emotional strain can be unbearable. Many sandwich generation caregivers don’t have a chance to process their feelings.”

In this article, we highlight some of the challenges of being a sandwich-generation caregiver and provide some tips and tricks for managing your various responsibilities.

Why is Being a Sandwich Caregiver So Challenging?

Several things make being a sandwich caregiver particularly difficult. Terri White, the owner of A Labor of Love ElderCare in New York City, says a couple of things make their caregiving journey especially challenging, including:

  • Older people often have fixed mindsets, which can lead to personality clashes.

  • Sandwich caregivers often provide care for their parents. Parents tend to view their children as kids…even after they’ve grown up.

  • As parents AND caregivers, sandwich caregivers need to be present for everyone’s needs, including doctor’s appointments, extracurricular activities, and their own work responsibilities.

  • Sandwich caregivers are financially responsible for everyone in their household.

  • Sandwich caregivers may have health problems of their own.

That’s not even considering the emotional work involved. “Many sandwich caregivers don’t have the chance to process their emotions. From grief over changes in their parents’ health to feelings of guilt or inadequacy for being less present than they’d like for their children,” Herman said.

“But, emotions take time to process, something sandwich caregivers simply don’t have. So, they often cut corners in the only place they can find time –– their own self-care.”

How Can Self-Care Help?

Self-care is crucial for all caregivers, but it’s especially so for sandwich generation members. “Sandwich caregivers are very susceptible to burnout. They try to manage with less sleep, stop socializing with their friends, and may even avoid doing things that refuel their souls and psyches,” Herman said. 

“Unfortunately, this wreaks havoc on one’s coping skills. It’s easy to grow resentful or impatient, which can lead to short-tempered stress reactions that can make you feel worse about the entire situation.” 

What’s the Best Way to Prioritize Self-Care?

Excellent question! Herman says sandwich caregivers are often forced to fall into survival mode. With so much going on, putting one foot in front of the other is normal. But taking a moment to step back, look at the big picture, and research your options can alleviate some of the stress. 

Herman recommends a three-pronged approach:

Step 1: Build a reliable support network

“As a sandwich caregiver, you need a support system that can help you keep a clear perspective, find valuable resources, and hold you accountable,” Herman said. “Good friends, a trusted counselor, or a caregiving coach can help you develop a plan that includes regular periods of rest and respite.”

Step 2: Schedule “me” time

When did you last treat yourself to some “me” time? Setting aside one hour a week to go on a walk or eat a meal at your favorite restaurant can inject some joy into your existence. It doesn’t have to be something fancy. Just get out of the house and take a break from your worries.

Step 3: Think about your financial future

Calculating your caregiving expenses can be tedious, but it’s necessary, especially when considering the future. While your children eventually grow up and leave home, your older loved ones may require long-term or palliative care.

Putting a percentage of your income into a monthly savings account can help manage these costs and provide peace of mind.


Sandwich caregivers –– those who care for their children and older family members –– are a growing demographic. As the average lifespan increases and more Americans require care, the number will continue expanding.

If you find yourself in a sandwich caregiving situation, know you aren’t alone. While the responsibilities are undoubtedly challenging, building a support network and scheduling regular time for self-care can help you cope.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.