Millions of Americans in the so-called sandwich generation are struggling with a complex set of challenges: how to simultaneously parent one's aging parents and one's own children while trying to make a living and save for retirement and college. Beginning April 17, NPR's Morning Edition will broadcast "Family Matters," a series exploring this new reality.
Hosted by David Greene and airing over the course of eight weeks, "Family Matters" will follow the lives of three different families, providing intimate insight into the complexities and challenges of being a caregiver to two generations. Listeners will meet Natasha Shamone-Gilmore, who brought her dementia-suffering father into a cramped home while worrying that her son may not get to attend college; Yolanda Hunter, who quit her job to care for her grandmother full-time; and two sisters-in-law who juggle complex schedules in order to alternate caring for their grandmother.
"Family Matters" will also provide solutions and advice from experts in the field in an effort to join Americans in an on-going national conversation. "We really see this as a shared experience," says Morning Edition host David Greene. "These are very complex issues on people's minds every day. We want to bring them to the forefront and share with other Americans so they realize that they're part of a community."
We recently spoke with Greene about "Family Matters."
Why are you producing "Family Matters" at this time and what can listeners expect?
There are many trends coming together and hitting families at this time. People are living longer. Elderly people are living longer. We have boomers who had kids later than earlier generations. They're simultaneously taking care of elderly parents and kids in their twenties, some of whom are staying home. A lot of people are watching their retirements disappear. Many elderly people aren't as secure as they thought they'd be. We have a younger generation struggling with decisions about how to live on their own, while more Americans than ever before are living in multi-generational families.
We realized that this has become a shared experience and challenge for people all over the country. So we decided to follow three families who are facing some of these struggles and let them tell their stories. We wanted to get into their lives and listen to the decisions they're making, both large and small. Through the fabric of those stories, we'll open the window to the many challenges people are facing and make it a conversation for our listeners.
Millions of Americans in this new sandwich generation are not only impossibly squeezed; they're also very fearful.
We're going to go right to the heart of that fear. A lot of people are doing a lot of rethinking at a time when the squeeze is so tight and so daunting. Yolanda Hunter had a steady job; she had some retirement, and then her grandmother got really sick. Her dementia just really set in. Yolanda decided to take off what she thought would be a year from her job to take care of her grandmother full time. And now it's been two years. The stress on that family is overwhelming. She needs to get her career back. She doesn't want to leave her grandmother in the lurch. The family can't afford a full-time caregiver in the house.
There are so many decisions large and small, but it's the smaller ones that have really struck me. I think we know some of the larger decisions: Do I dip into my retirement? Do I sell a house to pay for caregiving? But the smaller life decisions and moments that are also so stressful and so emotional.
To what extent will "Family Matters" also be advice and solutions-driven?
We will have a lot of content online: statistics, advice. We'll have our science correspondent talk about the psychological trauma of making economic decisions. We'll talk to Jane Gross, who wrote a book about caring for the elderly and will explore a lot of the different options. We're going to focus on college in one part and how to balance college costs with the costs associated with caring for an elderly family member. We'll have conversations about what we can extrapolate from each family's experience that will be helpful for everyone.
How will the series unfold?
The first week we're going to introduce the three families and bring in someone from the Pew Research Center to take a broad look at why we're doing this: why now and why it's important. Then we'll get to the second week and the first family in Maryland. And we'll go from there. We've let a lot of things unfold organically, listening, being open-minded.
You have a huge community out there, considering the millions of Americans who are now part of the sandwich generation.
Yes. And we really see this as a shared experience and a dialogue for our listeners. We want to bring all of the issues on peoples' minds to the forefront. We want Americans to realize that they're part of a community. I think these stories will sound all too familiar for a lot of people. I think they'll feel like, 'wow, I'm not alone in this.'
(Check out the slideshow below for some of the families featured in NPR's new series.)
Kelley Hawkins (left) smiles with her grandmother AnnaBelle Bowers, 87, while at lunch in Harrisburg, Pa. Hawkins shares full-time care of Bowers with her sister-in-law LaDonna Martin. Both are nurses with two children each, and move Bowers, who has limited mobility, every two weeks from one home to another.
AnnaBelle Bowers talks to her granddaughter Carley (right), and her friends after they returned from lacrosse practice. "I'm not rich money-wise, but with my family I'm a millionaire," Bowers says.
Natasha Shamone-Gilmore walks to church with her husband, Curtis (left), and her father, Franklin Brunson, 81, in Capitol Heights, Md. She has taken on the daily challenge of caring for her father, who is suffering from mild dementia. Her son Nicholas, 24, also lives in the family home.
Natasha Shamone-Gilmore has opted to place her father in a full-time adult health center during the day while she works for a nonprofit and her husband works for a regional transit system.
Geneva Hunter (left), who runs the secretarial operations for a Washington, D.C., law firm, decided to take a hands-on approach to her mother's care and moved Ida Christian, 89, into her home.
Ida Christian, who suffers from dementia, gets help from her granddaughter, Yolanda Hunter (left), in blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Yolanda quit her lucrative job to become Ida's full-time caregiver.