Caught in the Sandwich
Are you supporting your parents and your kids? It’s the new reality for thousands of us. TV journalist Joanna Hall shares her experience.
You’ve wangled the afternoon off work and are whiizzing your mum to her hospital appointment when your mobile rings. It’s your son’s school - they need you to pick him up asap because she’s been ill.
Sound familiar? Welcome to the Sandwich Generation - where people are sandwiched between supporting their kids and their parents.
You don’t have to be providing full-on personal care for you elderly loved one to be a member. Helping your dad set up his wifi while supervising your son’s homework is enough to get you in.
We are having kids later and our parents are living longer - so the ranks of the Sandwich Generation are swelling.
In fact Google reckons more than 40 percent of its workforce is in this group- which is why it allows workers 8 weeks caregiver leave.
TV journalist Joanna Hall, from Warwickshire, is firmly in the Sandwich Generation. She has responsibility for her nine year old daughter Amaya Grace as well as her 78 year old mother and 80 year old dad. “It’s a fine balancing act”, she confesses.
”I’m tying to split myself in various ways. One day I have to take my mother to the optician. The next day I have to be with my dad when he’s going to the eye specialist” All while keeping on top of her daughter’s schoolwork and holding down a challenging career.
“Trying to juggle getting .one person from one appointment and another person from another appointment and you’ve only got fifteen minutes to do it. That’s really stressful.”
It’s a reality more and more of us will need to become aware of . By 2050, one person in four in the UK will be aged over 65 according to the Office for National Statistics.
Carers UK says 3 in 5 of us are likely to become a career.
“When you become a parent yourself, you know you’re in it for the long haul. You don’t actually anticipate that you’re also going to be responsible for your parents at the same time.,” she says.
“If you started your family late you’ll reach a point where being a parent, and your parent getting elderly, is going to collide and suddenly you’ve got these multiple conflicting tasks to manage.”
SEEKING THE UPSIDE
There are some upsides - especially as Amaya Grace gets older and more independent.
“My father can happily look after her because he’s still fit enough to be able to spend an evening with a nine year old and they can engage with each other and have a good time. Which means that sometimes I can have a night off.” Her mother also helps out with tasks like ironing school uniform.
Grandparents helping out with children is a common benefit sited by Sandwich Generation members. But despite this, the stresses can take their toll.
A report by the Office for National Statistics, before the pandemic, says a quarter of intergenerational carers reported symptoms of mental ill health - particularly prompted by feelings of isolation and worries about money,. Those pressures have increased as more adult children moved back home during the pandemic.
Joanna says her needs come way down the list of things that have to be taken care of.
“I don’t exist in all of this. I’m basically chief cook bottle washer and chauffeur at the moment. And that’s my role for the foreseeable future I think.
When I do get some time for myself, it means I often haven’t got enough energy to do as many fun things as I’d like to do. I don’t have my own life, as it were.”
She thinks more should be done to support people in her situation but says she does get solace from her social group.
“ I have friends who are also in this situation - and we all talk to each other and empathise”.
Some of them have it tougher than her.
“Not only may they have a parent they are helping, they might also have a child with a neurodiversity. That could be a child in their teens or late teens who in theory should be reasonably self sufficient but - because of their disability - still require a hands on parenting role.”
EASE THE STRESS
There are steps sandwich carers can take to ease their stress. Here are a few.
Don’ suffer in silence. Tell your friends and family how you feel. Getting things off your chest , in a constructive way, can really help relieve some of your stress.
Divvy Things Up
Don't struggle on your own
Get your friends and family to support you. Kids can help with your parents. Your parents can help with your kids. Your partner can sometimes help with both. Don't be shy to pay a housekeeper, babysitter or carer, if that’s an option.
Distinguish between "nice to do "and " have to do".
Try to figure out how to make your to-do list more manageable. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to certain tasks if they’re not crucial.
Talk to Your Boss.
See if your employer will allow you to work flexibly.
That could mean working part time or compressed hours. Be creative in approaching this.
Practice Self Care.
If you're stressed and exhausted you could be in danger of carer burnout. .
Take time out when it’s safe to do so. Try to exercise. Meditation can also help.
Check this out Care.com for more detailed advice.