I was recently invited to give a talk on the topic of “Sandwich Generation” at the Hindu Community Institute (www.hinduci.org), a new non-profit organization in Milpitas, Calif. The HCI is poised to graduate its first class of Counselors of Hindu Traditionto serve the greater Bay Area community this year. Currently, the counselors are learning about topics related to “Parenting and Cross Generational Relationships.”
When putting together this presentation, I felt that the term “Sandwich Generation” didn’t accurately describe the realities and unique challenges of the Indian American community. As a result, I coined the term “Pav Bhaji Generation” to describe the complex realities of middle-aged Indian Americans who are trying to meet the needs of their older parents – while also trying to meet the needs of their children. In other words, they are the bhaji stuck in-between the two paus, in which both ends are in need of caregiving.
The “Pav Bhaji Generation” is similar to the “Sandwich Generation” but they are Indian Americans between the ages of 40-60 with a parent age 65 or older who needs support, while they are also raising young children or supporting a grown child (18+). They are typically female caregivers who may receive little support from siblings or spouses. In contemporary times, it has become difficult to rely on extended family members for help, because families are more geographically dispersed than they were before. Thus, siblings and relatives may be living in different states and/or different continents.
Some Unique Challenges
What are some of the unique challenges of the “Pav Bhaji Generation”?
Challenge 1: Internal Struggle. The “Pav Bhaji Generation” struggles with collectivistic values of supporting their parents, while also being raised or exposed to individualistic values of being in America. The individualistic values push them towards being independent, not relying on others, and doing what they want to do in life (which often times can translate to their professional achievements and accomplishments); while the collectivistic values they have been raised with relate to and prioritize their relationships with others. This, often times, means prioritizing and taking care of one’s family in times of need. However, for the caregiver this comes at a cost to one’s own personal and professional time.
In addition, many Indian Americans also feel guilty for sending their parents to an outside facility. They may feel like they are not fulfilling their duties or are being judged by others in the community. However, with diseases like dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s) it may be dangerous to leave an older family member at home if no one is there to watch them during the work day.
Alzheimer’s wandering is one of the common issues that caregivers have to deal with when they have a family member with Alzheimer’s. Many times, these older adults are found wandering the streets and getting lost in their own neighborhoods. There is also a lot of stigma about outside facilities in the Indian American community for the older generation. However, times are changing, and we do have many dual-income households today. We need to do the best that we can for the older generation, while also keeping in mind the limitations of being in a “Pav Generation” in terms of time, finances, and what is in the best interest of the entire family system (i.e., grandparents, parents, and their children).
During my presentation, Dr. Kailash Joshi, president of the Hindu Community Institute, expressed his views on elder care by stating, “Fundamentally, I believe the older generation is best served by not setting high expectations of care from the younger generation. There are several reasons for this, like changing times and lifestyles, but also making one’s own plans reduces negative energies and keeps relations from deteriorating.”
Challenge 2: Role Strain. The “Pav Bhaji Generation” is feeling pulled in many different directions. Many are working, raising children, trying to make time for their marital spouse – and they are also trying to fulfill their responsibilities as a son or daughter. Research supports that they often feel inadequate in their multiple roles, because they cannot complete any one of those roles to a level of satisfaction.
They feel guilty for not meeting expectations at work, with their children, their spouses, and their older parents. They may be missing work meetings or deadlines due to the conflicts in their caregiving schedule. They feel disconnected from their spouse due to lack of quality time to spend with one another. They are not able to attend to the emotional needs of their children and are often in “survival mode,” trying to get through the day by meeting their basic needs. They also feel like they may not be spending enough time with their older parents who spend the majority of their day isolated or alone.
Challenge 3. Burn Out. Because the “Pav Bhaji Generation” is in a constant state of giving, their own needs do not get met. They face tremendous amounts of stress on a daily basis. Many caregivers have physical and/or mental health problems due to neglecting their own needs. Studies have shown that caregivers are faced with chronic stress which can come out in the forms of anxiety, heart palpitations, trouble concentrating, sleep trouble, and digestion issues.
In addition, if parents are stressed, kids will have more stress as well. It is important for the “Pav Bhaji Generation” to be honest with themselves and their families about what they can do. It is important for Indian American caregivers to use the community resources that are available to them, but often they fail to do so.
As a community, it will be important not to judge the caregivers in the “Pav Bhaji Generation” about the decisions that they make because they are trying to do the best that they can for an entire family system. In addition, our community should think about connecting Indian American caregivers to one another.
The research supports the importance of having caregiver support groups to help meet the emotional needs of caregivers. In these groups, caregivers can share strategies, and connect with others that are dealing with similar struggles. Furthermore, family meetings can help get the entire family on the same page. During a family meeting, the needs of all family members are addressed in a productive manner. During this time, extended family members can become resources to help with financial needs and/or traveling to provide the caregiver with some time to meet their own needs.
Benefits of the “Pav Bhaji Generation”
While there are many challenges to being in the “Pav Bhaji Generation,” there are many benefits as well. For middle-age adults who lost touch with their parents, they are once again able to bond with their parents and they are able to see this as a growth opportunity to learn more about themselves. The caregivers in the “Pav Bhaji Generation” are able to form intimate connections with their parents, as they provide them with the love and compassion that they need in this last stage of their lives.
When thinking about Indian values and beliefs, parents are not just telling their children that this is important, but they are showing their children what it means to care for their own parents when they are in need. They are living examples of how to navigate this complex and nuanced world.
For many Indian Americans in the “Pav Bhaji Generation,” the reality is that there is a constant internal struggle, along with role strain and burnout. My hope for the “Pav Bhaji Generation” is that they manage their internal struggles by setting realistic goals about what they can or cannot do – and that the Indian American community supports them in their decisions. I also hope that they begin to use their community and family resources to alleviate caregiver stress and to feel validated, respected, and supported in their important role as a caregiver.
For many Indian Americans, becoming a part of the “Pav Bhaji Generation” may come unexpectedly. One day, they are thrust into the “Pav Bhaji Generation” without much time or consideration. This means that decisions must be made quickly. It will be important to consider a caregiver’s physical, emotional, and financial resources at this time.
- Location Matters. It’s important to consider where one lives. There may be institutional resources available in bigger, metropolitan cities versus smaller towns. Some may have family members and/or close neighbors that can act as important resources during this time.
- Use Technology. Today, we have many ways to use technology to help with caregiving needs. Apps like Uber or Lyft can be used as a resource to take older parents to health care appointments if it is feasible. Instacart can be used to deliver groceries. Surveillance cameras and Facetime can help us check in on older parents without physically needing to be there.
- Caregiver Fatigue. Consider who is going to care for the caregiver. It’s important to consider if the caregiver has an emotionally supportive spouse who will care for them at times of role strain or burn out. Checking to see if the caregiver qualifies for community resources like respite care will also help provide some much needed relief to the caregiver to meet their own needs.
- Consider All Resources. Don’t count out communities that can provide a lot more in terms of caregiving needs. There are several technical definitions for these communities: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing and Memory Care. However, as Arun Paul, CEO and founder of Priya Living, notes, “We do not feel that these categories address what people really want – to live in a place where they are happy. We offer a wide range of services for our elders, and serve elders who have a wide range of physical needs. So, we do not feel we can be defined by the conventional industry definitions.”
Given each individual’s unique family circumstances, we must take a critical look at the needs that can be met at these various communities. In addition, these communities are also changing and moving away from the negative connotations of being an “old-age home.” Many retirement communities are beginning to cater to the needs and interests of the Indian American community (e.g., yoga, meditation, chai time, Bollywood movie nights, and much more). They also offer additional services like personal care, housekeeping, laundry, and meal services, and shopping.
While this is not an exhaustive list, I do believe that we need more resources that help map out the plans for the “Pav Bhaji Generation” based on how each caregiver can optimize their particular situation to meet the needs of their family system. Understanding the diverse possibilities and situations is a start. However, we are just scratching the surface. These types of conversations are just a start for our community. I am grateful to organizations like the Hindu Community Institute for addressing these types of contemporary issues. The counselors are tackling tough, controversial issues for our community. I am also curious and eager to find out what other types of resources may emerge in the future, because I believe there is much more that needs to be done to get at the heart of the realities experienced by the “Pav Bhaji Generation.”