'The Sandwich Generation': Caring for an elder parent and adult child at same time

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Nearly half of Americans in their 40s and 50s have both a parent age 65 or older and a child. These middle-aged couples often find themselves sandwiched in the middle, caring for both their kids and their elder parents, financially and physically.

If you fall into this category, you're not alone. It's called "The Sandwich Generation" and it's playing out in homes all around the country.

Dinner at the Belz family home in Olympia ends with a little treat and a cup of coffee. Trish Belz and her husband Aaron are both psychologists living in Olympia. They have two children, a 5th grader and a high school freshman.

But of all the plates at the dining table, the fullest by far belongs to Trish. She’s caring for her kids and also her mom and dad, John and Maureen. “This is my parenting time,” said Trish. “I want to give my kids this time yet it’s completely pulled also towards my parents.”

Trish is not alone. Middle-aged Americans often find themselves sandwiched in the middle, caring for both their kids and their parents, financially and physically.

Maureen and Jack have been married for 54 years. They don’t drive home after dinner with their daughter and grandchildren. They walk, across a gravel road. With concerns for their health and safety, Trish and Aaron build a home for her parents two years ago, just across the street from their own house. This makes it easier for Trish to care for her parents on a daily basis.

For the older generation relinquishing authority and independence to their adult children can be rough. Jack admits it’s been a transition. “I don’t know if everyone can do that,” he said.

Psychologist Jill Gross works with sandwich generation clients. She says the number one issue for caregivers is burnout. “You have all the duties and responsibilities associated with parenting,” said Gross. And then you add to that if the elderly person you’re providing care for lives in your area often there are doctor’s appointments prescriptions to fill sometimes meals to prepare.”

The Belz family faces an additional hurdle. Maureen, age 81, has Alzheimers. She now lives at a memory care facility nearby. “Its really tough,” said Trish. “I’ve felt angry before and I’ve felt resentful.” Trish picks her up most mornings so she can spend the day with her husband and grandchildren. After cleaning the kitchen and helping her kids with homework, Trish drives her mom back to the facility at night.

Gross says caregivers need to make self-care a top priority. She encourages the older generation to start discussions about how they want to live out their days. “The best gift you can give to your adult children is to be the one to bring it up and talk about your values and goals,” Gross said.

Gross encourages adult children to connect with other people in the middle of that sandwich, and to find ways to share caregiving and parenting responsibilities, whether it’s a helpful friend or a spouse.

Despite the juggling her time between her parents, her job, her husband and kids, Trish says she’s happy for the wonderful quality time she and her kids get with her parents. Her father Jack is grateful that he continues to be able to spend his days with his wife Maureen.

We want to share more stories about that journey -- caring for your parents and your kids at the same time. Go to the Q13 News Facebook page and tell us how you do it or email tips@q13fox.com.