Why the Sandwich Generation Just Got Worse for Women

COVID amped up the pressure on women providing for their families recently. If you’re “stuck in the middle,” don’t lose hope. Take some tips on how to get some breathing room again.

A woman peeks out from behind her sandwich.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As we celebrate national Women’s History Month this March, it’s a great moment to take a look at all of the pressures and pulls on women’s time and energy. The pandemic has exacerbated the “typical” issues facing the sandwich generation by creating even more challenges for women, in particular. This should no longer be called the sandwich generation for women, but instead, the club sandwich generation.

The Sandwich Generation

This clever term refers to the generation (consisting of women, in most cases) being caught, or sandwiched, between kids who are struggling financially and need help and elderly parents who are also struggling and need help. These simultaneous burdens on women during the pandemic have heightened their financial and emotional stress.

Women, in greater numbers than men, have had to take off work to care for kids who couldn’t go to school; take off time from work to care for their adult children returning to the nest because they may have lost their jobs or became ill; and also, take time off to care for and take parents to doctors.

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Why the Big Deal?

It’s because the real “meat in the sandwich” (women) are worried about not having enough “bread” to support all the generations relying upon them for financial help. The pressures mount as life shifts. People are living longer, which is great, but that also means that elderly parents may need more help for a longer period of time. That translates into the sandwich generation often having to give up their work to care for their parents. The sandwiched women may be raising their own younger kids, and then couple that with their older kids moving back home, and we have a recipe for real financial burden.

The big deal is that women are still the caregivers, in most cases. They are pulled in too many directions. As discussed, the pandemic forced many to leave the workplace to handle all of these circumstances. Many moms are single and are under even more pressure.

What Can Be Done?

Take a Deep Breath

The first thing to consider is to try to balance all of your obligations and try not to be stretched so thin that you burn out because so many people depend upon you. Although it may sound impossible, you need to even schedule a daily “time-out” for yourself to take a walk or to meet or Zoom with a friend. Once you do, you’ll be more “present” to help the others in your life.

Have the Talks

Talk to your kids and parents about sharing all the household responsibilities. Older kids may have to pitch in with caring for their grandparents. Maybe older kids could help with cleaning the house and taking Grandma or Grandpa to the doctor. Younger kids can even help by spending time with their grandparents. They could play cards or Scrabble or a watch TV with them. Also, grandparents may be healthy enough to be in charge of the younger kids’ homework, or babysitting for them. This will not only free up some time for you, but may save you some money, as well.

Craft a Family Budget

Design a family budget with the whole family, all of the generations, in mind. The adult kids may have to take jobs that don’t meet their expectations. Be honest about what you can and can’t afford. Ask each member what they are willing to sacrifice. Give them each a goal to reduce their expenditures. Maybe they each have to figure out how to save, say, $50 a week to contribute back into the family budget. Let them come up with ways to save. If your parents shouldn’t be driving, it is a perfect time to get rid of their car and insurance costs.

Your younger kids can think about cutting down on family discretionary spending on entertainment; everything from designer coffee to streaming services. Set up a family challenge to rotate the making of meals, including the freezing of an extra meal. This will help you to save time and money. Shop in bulk. You get the point.

Don’t Touch Your Retirement Savings

It’s tempting to start to liquidate or borrow from your retirement savings, but there are consequences. Try not to touch that money, because it’s so hard to build that back up again. Think about the consequences of you just kicking the can down the road for your kids, who could then become the next sandwich generation financially caring for you.

Seek Help

There are lots of professionals to help you to navigate these choppy financial waters and to design a plan forward. Also, many communities are offering support groups; you are not alone. You may learn of new resources and coping skills. You may have thought somewhere in your mind that this could happen, but you can’t understand it until you are knee-deep in the situation.

We know that you are capable of doing everything — work, family, friends, volunteering, all of it. Let’s face it, as we look at celebrating Women’s History Month, you need to also celebrate yourself. You are the lynchpin of the family.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Neale Godfrey, Financial Literacy Expert
President & CEO, Children's Financial Network Inc.

Neale Godfrey is a New York Times #1 best-selling author of 27 books, which empower families (and their kids and grandkids) to take charge of their financial lives. Godfrey started her journey with The Chase Manhattan Bank, joining as one of the first female executives, and later became president of The First Women's Bank and founder of The First Children's Bank. Neale pioneered the topic of "kids and money," which took off after her 13 appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." www.nealegodfrey.com (opens in new tab)