Sandwich Generation -the challenges of caring for ageing parents and children by Liz Copping
A little while ago I did some research into the term ‘ the sandwich generation’, collated the facts and wrote an article based on what I had found on the internet. Facts are one thing - what I misunderstood and totally underestimated was the emotional stress and exhaustion it can cause.
Last Saturday I went to see my mum who lives alone 35 minutes drive away. Until recently she still drove and therefore was not worried if we didn’t visit more than once a week. However, at 92 she decided it was time to relinquish her driving license, and to be honest the whole family was relieved. But what no one had realised was the impact this would have on all of us. She feels she has lost her independence and is a burden and we worry she is alone so much more as she is unable to get out and about easily.
She now needs someone to take her to appointments, do her shopping and visit friends. Of course, she’s not a burden and I am happy to do this (and so is my sister but she works full time and travels a lot with her job). But this weekend I saw a glimpse of what lies ahead for us as a family and experienced what many people have to cope with on a daily basis and it is truly exhausting.
Welcome to the sandwich generation
My sister and brother-in-law needed help moving their daughter into a new house after her partner left her with a two-year-old and a baby due in a few weeks. I took my mother to the shops had a quick cup of tea and then drove over to meet my sister. Just as I arrived mum called to say she’d forgotten she needed to collect a parcel. Then my daughter messaged to say she was feeling a bit down and was coming home. Meantime my husband who is struggling to walk due to an ongoing knee injury called to tell me one of our dogs is throwing up. I was truly welcomed to the sandwich generation!
Navigating life as a new member of the sandwich generation
The term "sandwich generation" refers to a generation of individuals who find themselves caring for their ageing parents while simultaneously supporting and raising their own children. It typically comprises adults in their 40s to 60s.
This generation is called "sandwich" because they are "sandwiched" between the needs of their parents and their children. With increased life expectancy and delayed parenthood, adult kids moving back home due to high rents more individuals are finding themselves in this situation.
Financial strain for the sandwich generation
One of the primary challenges faced by the sandwich generation is the financial strain resulting from supporting both their parents and children. Ageing parents may require assistance with medical expenses, long-term care, or housing costs. Meanwhile, their children's education, extracurricular activities, and daily expenses can place additional financial burdens. Juggling these financial obligations can lead to stress, debt and a compromised financial future.
Emotional and psychological stress
Caring for ageing parents while raising children can create significant emotional and psychological stress and balancing the needs of both generations can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and burnout. The emotional toll of witnessing parents' health decline while trying to provide the best care possible, all while meeting the needs of one's children, can be exhausting and emotionally draining.
Getting the work-life balance
Members of the sandwich generation often find themselves torn between their work responsibilities, caregiving duties and parenting obligations. The demands of providing care for ageing parents, , managing financial affairs, and addressing emergencies can leave little time for personal and professional pursuits. This delicate balancing act can strain relationships, impact career advancement, and impede the pursuit of personal goals and aspirations.
Limited support networks
Many people will face a lack of support networks to help them manage their caregiving responsibilities. Unlike previous generations, where multiple generations lived in close proximity, modern families are often scattered geographically. This isolation can make it challenging to share caregiving responsibilities or seek emotional support from extended family members. Limited access to respite care services, support groups, and community resources further exacerbates the strain.
Impact on health and wellbeing
The chronic stress experienced can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Constantly juggling multiple roles and responsibilities can lead to sleep deprivation, compromised immune systems, increased risk of chronic diseases, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Neglecting self-care due to time constraints and prioritizing others' needs can further contribute to declining health and overall well-being.
Coping strategies and solutions
While the challenges faced may seem overwhelming, there are coping strategies and solutions that can help alleviate the strain:
Foster open and honest communication with both parents and children to set realistic expectations and boundaries. Discuss financial matters, caregiving responsibilities, and ensure everyone's needs and concerns are heard.
Reach out to support groups, community resources, and online forums for guidance, empathy, and advice from others facing similar challenges. Professional counselling can also provide a safe space to navigate the emotional complexities of the sandwich generation.
"We are the Sandwich Generation, it's very tough, but you cannot do it without the support system and also you must ask for that support. There’s no shame in saying, do you know what guys, I’m; struggling. There’s no shame in that". Michelle Griffith Robinson, Olympian
Delegate and Share Responsibilities
Explore ways to delegate and share caregiving responsibilities with siblings, relatives, or professional caregivers. This can alleviate the burden and create a support network for all involved. Be honest with each other so as not to build resentment.
Seek the advice of financial professionals to develop a comprehensive financial plan that considers both current caregiving needs and long-term financial stability. Explore options such as long-term care insurance, government assistance programs, and estate planning.
It is essential to provide effective care to others.
Prioritize self-care to maintain physical and mental well-being.
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