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In January 2022, Randi Schofield was a 34-year-old single mother who, not long before, left her full-time job of eight years as a personal bailiff to a local judge. She pulled $30,000 from her retirement savings and was planning to give herself all of 2022 to expand the small catering business she had always dreamed about. This would be the year she bet on herself. Then, that month, she received the news that medics were pulling her father out of his car.
The collision splintered the bone in his left thigh down to his knee; three days later, a metal rod held the broken pieces together. Until his leg recovered from the surgery, he would not be able to walk without assistance. In hindsight, there were warning signs that her father’s health could upend Schofield’s life. But he was also youthful and spirited, and it was easy to believe that everything was fine, that he was fine and that if she were to take care of him some day, it would be occasional and in a distant future. She didn’t see this day coming the way it did, so abruptly and so soon.
Increasing numbers of adult children are taking care of their parents, often shouldering the burden with no pay and little outside help — making their meals, helping them shower, bandaging their wounds and holding them up before they can fall. The social-work scholar Dorothy A. Miller once described this as the “peculiar position” in the modern American nuclear family, between the care people give to their aging parents and to their children. Today’s “sandwich generation” is younger than the version Miller described four decades ago, but it faces the same “unique set of unshared stresses” that she warned of then: acute financial strain, a lack of reciprocated support and “fatigue from fulfilling the demands of too many roles.”
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.