THE BLOG

Sandwich Generation Stress: Five Survival Tips

12/21/2011 09:25 am ET | Updated May 17, 2012

A peek into the fridge of a sandwich generation boomer says it all: Ensure milkshakes, a pack of juice boxes, a bottle of wine and food for an army -- certainly not the signs of an empty-nest household.

Today, a healthy chunk of baby boomers are doing it all. Many are still working while serving as a caregiver for parents, kids under 18, kids over 18 who have returned home, grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren too.

The Numbers

Multigenerational households are hot, says the Pew Research Center, with 16 percent of American roofs over the heads of at least two adult generations and one other (children, grandkids, young adults), up from 12 percent in the 1980s.

Another Pew survey reported that "boomerangers" -- grown children who move back after being away -- resided in 13 percent of American homes.

Finally, whether live-ins or frequent visitors, grandchildren are actively present in most boomer households; as of the 2010 Census, there were 2.6 million grandparents responsible for the care of their children's children.

The Challenges

For parents who loved the manic chaos of a full house and dreaded the empty nest, these demographic shifts are welcome. Even still, it's new and sometimes frightening territory to be faced with the demands of Dad's dementia, or your daughter's depression after a disappointing job search or dating disaster.

Like parenting, role reversal is a trial by fire. How can you be your son's friend, landlord and parent? How do you share the household rules with your mother-in-law without offending? Role reversal is a tough pill to swallow, especially for boomers with years of caregiving experience under their belts. And really, no one likes to be the new guy without the answers, particularly as a 50 or 60-something.

Not to mention that a person can only be stretched in so many directions. When your 10-year-old's soccer game, Mom's MRI appointment and your spouse's company holiday party collide on the same calendar day, even the most resilient family-first boomer may crave the empty nest.

No matter how old you are, caring for lots of people with diverse needs is hard work.

The Joys

The day your grandson takes his first steps in your living room will be just as joyous as the day your son took his a few decades earlier. The day your beloved great aunt moves in with you will be just as happy as your first visit to her home when you were a child. You'll be beaming with pride when your baby is the valedictorian of his high school class, as much as you dreaded all those Honor Society functions and field trips away from home. When your daughter finally gets a job offer beyond her wildest dreams, you'll celebrate the victory together.

These are the bright spots that must burn in your heart and mind on those days when you'd rather call in sick, stay in your pajamas and order take-out until further notice (for those days will surely come).

But in the meantime, here are five survival tips for managing the new normal.