By Tim Grant
It was challenging enough for Joy Robison to care for her terminally ill mother while she lived only a few minutes away. But when her husband accepted a job in Minnesota last May, she had to fly back and forth to Pittsburgh every couple of weeks, or pack her two young children in a car and drive across the country to be with her mother.
“I’m very thankful and very lucky I could spend the time in Pittsburgh I did with my mother,” said Robison, 41.
Her mother, Mary Robison, 76, died of cancer in October at home in hospice care. Robison’s father, Jonathan, 71, also is in poor health, which meant that most of the caregiving responsibilities fell to the couple’s only child.
While fulfilling her responsibilities to her aging parents, Robison was often unavailable to her own family due to exhaustion and physical absence. Not only did she pile up a hefty amount of credit card debt traveling, the freelance designer also lost income while tending to her mother’s needs and spending hours on the telephone with nurses, social workers and family members.
The emotional and financial stress experienced by Robison and her husband, Ian Hargraves, 48, has become so common that social scientists describe their demographic as the “sandwich generation.” Typically between the ages of 40 and 59, these adults are raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time they are struggling to keep up with their own expenses and save for retirement.
Social workers who counsel families in crisis say the population of sandwich-generation families is on the rise with no signs of slowing down in light of parents living longer and more of their adult children waiting until they are older to start their own families, which could add up to a looming crisis for the next generation of retirees.