Sandwich Generation: Living with Elderly People
This research paper examined the phenomenon known as “sandwich generation” in the USA society. The sources related to this topic were explored in order to find out why this phenomenon took place, and how the co-living with elderly relatives (parents or grandparents) may influence the whole family. In particular, both positive and negative effects of this phenomenon were the subjects of interest. The suggestion was that sharing home with elderly people has not only negative, but some positive aspects as well. In order to find this out, sources related to the subject of research were studied, and the brief overview was made regarding the historical development of the sandwich generation phenomenon. Based on the information studied, the positive aspects of co-living with elderly relatives were found, and the conclusion was made that this phenomenon should be paid more attention to in order to gain positive experience out of it.
Sandwich Generation: Living with Elderly People
Family is a social formation, the essential role of which is not only to foster new generation, but also to transfer national traditions to it, as well as to teach basic morals, traditions, and customs. In the restricted sense, family is basically associated with two parents and their children. However, there are cases when the household is shared with grandparents. This phenomenon, also known as “sandwich generation”, in particular, the pros and cons of living with elderly relatives will be further explored in the paper. The reasons that cause it will also be considered. Works of various authors on this topic will be explored and analyzed, and some conclusions will be made.
The institution of family has a long history, taking its origin from the prehistoric society. At that time, family used to be a primitive tribe with all its members living together and cooperating on a common basis. Naturally, that kind of family consisted of different generations, from the oldest ones to the youngest. Such family structure allowed the whole group to function efficiently and support their existence. However, along with the development of civilization, the notion of family has cardinally changed, and nowadays it is often taken as a two-generation structure consisting of parents and their children.
In the present-day society, there is quite a large number of families that also have an elderly grandparent (or both of them) living in the same household. The phenomenon of several generations of different age (a middle-aged, an elderly, and a young one) co-living under one roof is called a “sandwich generation” (Pierret, 2006). Moreover, it does not necessarily refer to the homes, which multigenerational structure can be explained by their national family traditions (i.e. traditions of an Asian or Arabic nation). According to the social research data, about sixteen percent of Americans share the household with one or more adult generations, or a grandparent and one more generation (Moeller, 2013).
Generally speaking, such multigenerational homes are not something unusual. There was a time when almost a quarter of the nation lived this way, for example before World War II (Moeller, 2013). At that time, it was a frequent phenomenon when three (sometimes more) generations lived together sharing home duties and running the household. Later, because of growth of the material welfare, and due to the fact that society became more mobile, multigenerational families began to disappear. The tendency was that living with ones’ parents is some sort of inconvenience that may cause discomfort to the family. There was even a striving to reduce the contacts with the older family members and be as much distant from them as possible (Moeller, 2013). Young and middle-aged people became more concerned about their own families and needs, rather than involved in their parents’ life.
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However, nowadays the situation tends to be changing in quite an opposite direction. The number of households shared with the elderly relatives, mostly grandparents, is growing. Several crucial reasons for this tendency can be emphasized. First of all, it concerns elderly people themselves. Frequent problems with health, some chronic diseases, or any other age manifestations may lead to an elderly person’s disability or a high need in care and assistance, making his or her adult children take their parent to live with them. Another reason that can make one’s elderly parent (or parents) move in is the social one. During the recent years, the striving for returning back to the traditional big-family type consisting of three or more generations appears to be more and more widespread. In some way, it may be explained by the increasing instability of the institution of marriage, making adult children go back to co-living with their elderly parents. Additionally, the reason can also be that the age of entering into a marriage tends to grow for middle-aged people, contributing to more possibilities and time for socialization with their parents. The changes in child-rearing values and approach may also be the cause. In this case, a more individual and democratic way of upbringing has led to the development of greater closeness between parents and children (Moeller, 2013).
However, there is one more reason why the number of so-called sandwich families is increasing. It is a financial reason. It means that families may prefer to take their elderly relative to co-live with them if this will allow bringing down the costs for his or her medical treatment at a specialized institution, which can appear to be too high. Also, sharing home with an elderly parent can take place in case an adult child has lost his or her job, or if he or she is incapable of finding a job for some reasons. Elderly people often move to their children’s families when being not able to afford to pay for their own apartment and not willing to stay at the nursing home or any other institution of that kind.
Whatever the reasons may be, co-living with an elderly relative is often a challenge for the whole family. First of all, supporting one’s elderly parent takes not only emotional efforts, but often financial expenses as well. According to the researches, more than thirty percent of adults that co-live with their parents support them financially (Parker & Patten, 2013). As long as there is also a younger generation (children) to be cared of in sandwich families, the cost that middle generation (parents) bears is rather high. That is why those who take care of their elderly parents often feel “squeezed” by the burden of responsibility (Bogolea, n.d.). What also can be a matter of difficulty is the necessity to take care of an elderly person that is disabled (i.e. uses wheelchair). This may require special rearranging of the house, as well as adjusting to the new family member’s needs.
Another factor that can cause difficulties in sandwich families is that co-living with another, often diametrically opposite generation under one roof may cause mutual incompatibility. Elderly people were raised in households ruled by family traditions and principles different from the modern ones. They often have their opinions and views unchanged since that time, e.g. on how the household should be run, or children raised. Thus, it may be difficult for them to adapt to the lifestyle of the rest of the family.
There are situations when elderly people may behave capriciously to attract attention to themselves of those around them; or they may keep one busy all the time by asking for something (i.e. assistance, attention, favors, etc.). One should not think they do it on purpose; it is just because of the fear to be alone and needless. However, quite a large amount of those who share the home with their elderly parents are at risk of being depressed because of the burden they have to deal with. They are more likely to end up stressed, overextended or having some emotional illnesses (“Depression in the Sandwich Generation,” n.d.).
On the other hand, there are positive personal and social aspects of sharing one’s home with an elderly relative (Moeller, 2013). For example, living with grandparents can influence younger generation of the family, i.e. children, in a positive way. First of all, it is the chance for them to learn how people lived two generations ago, and what life was like then. Grandparents may become a living history book for a child, helping to learn something he or she could not know otherwise. Being able to spend time with someone wise and experienced in life can contribute a lot to the development of a child’s personality as well. Co-living with an elderly relative is a good opportunity to teach children politeness and concern about others.
Having elderly people living under one roof with the rest of the family is also a chance to renew some family traditions that have been forgotten. In general, several generations in the same home may create a positive atmosphere for practicing and sharing not only family, but also national traditions altogether.
If one’s elderly parents are able to take part in running the house, they can be a good help in some light chores, as well as looking after the children sometimes. In social meaning, such practice of several generations’ co-living leads to renewal of traditional family values and norms, creating a healthy and stable family. It is very important nowadays for re-establishing the institution of family as it is.
After examining the sources regarding the phenomenon of sandwich generation in American families, the data received indicates that sharing home with elderly relatives does have not only negative sides, but also positive, as it was predicted. This positive influence impacts both social and personal sides of family life (Moeller, 2013). In particular, it was found out that co-living with one’s elderly relatives may contribute to the development of a positive atmosphere at home. This aspect can be explained so that elderly people often bring along with them the traditions and norms of family life that have been forgotten in most modern homes. The renewal of such traditions has a good impact on a family in general. Also, living with older generation has a beneficial impact on children upbringing. Living with grandparents can teach children different behavior pattern and attention towards the others’ needs.
To conclude, it becomes obvious that so-called sandwich generation, after being disregarded of for a certain period of time, is becoming an inseparable part of modern families’ lives. However, it should not be regarded as only negative phenomenon of the modern society because of the difficulties it may be accompanied with (i.e. costs for supporting an elderly person, possible tension between generations, or necessity to adapt to the new family member’s needs).
On the contrary, sandwich family has some positive sides. It helps to improve family relations and renew traditions. When being well structured (i.e. when elderly relatives feel proper care and emotional involvement of the rest of the family), it contributes to the development of children a lot. It not only teaches children to be family-oriented, to respect old people, and take care of them. It also creates a positive atmosphere within the home, which shows this phenomenon’s possible efficiency and profit both for society and a family itself.
Bogolea, K. (n.d.). The sandwich generation. Today’s Care Giver. Retrieved from http://www.caregiver.com/channels/rural/articles/sandwich_generation.htm
Depression in the sandwich generation (n.d.). University of Michigan Depression Center. Retrieved from http://www.depressiontoolkit.org/news/depression_in_the_sandwich_generation.asp
Moeller, P. (2013). How generations can thrive under the same roof. U.S. News. Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-best-life/2013/01/16/how-generations-can-thrive-under-the-same-roof
Parker, K., & Patten, E. (2013).The sandwich generation: Rising financial burdens for middle-aged Americans. Pew
Research Social & Demographic Trends. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/
Pierret, C. (2006). The ‘sandwich generation’: Women caring for parents and children. Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2006/09/art1full.pdf