Around 2.4 million of us in the UK are in the ‘sandwich generation’. We’re typically aged 40-70 and being sandwiched between the needs of our dependent children on one hand and the needs of our ageing parents on the other.
It’s a difficult place to be. Balancing the needs of your parents and children can be immensely challenging. On top of this, you have your own needs to consider too if you are to be able to meet them as well.
It’s not exactly new. Often couples are having their children later due to finances, careers and property security. This is timed with our ballooning ageing population.
We can then add into this some additional elements. Typically parents have to support young adult children far more than they did in the past. University fees and housing costs make it far harder for their children to become financially independent soon after reaching adulthood.
In addition, individual financial retirement planning is taking more and more input. Such things as final salary pensions, which bolstered confidence for one’s own retirement, are a thing of the past. To maintain your same lifestyle requires a great deal of planning.
Furthermore, families can be much more dispersed and separated by miles. This makes the logistics of caring for those who need it considerably more difficult to manage, especially around working lives.
Finally, with improved healthcare, we are living longer.
However, the needs of both your dependent children and your parents are both pressing and real. This can make it a very worrying and complex time for those within the sandwich generation, striving to do the best they can for all parties.
Start by taking stock and realising that you are far from alone in being in this situation. It is a challenging situation. However, whilst fire-fighting you are pulled in all directions. You need to stop ‘doing’ for long enough to make a plan.
You need to look at the three different parties (your children, your parents and you) and make plans in three different areas: time, finances and care. Solutions within each of these areas can overlap each other.
You only have so much time available. Your career may be at its most intense with management responsibilities. Your teenage children seem to require more emotional input and support than they did as toddlers. Your parents are potentially isolated, desperate for any contact.
Sit down and think about how you can realistically apportion your time in a way which won’t exhaust you.
Flexi-time or reduced hours at work may help, if possible.
Additionally, create some firm boundaries. Accept that whilst your parent may wish to speak for 90 minutes on the phone each day, this isn’t realistic or fair. Set clear times for contact but try to build in other options which can serve in your place. You may find this article on befriending services for the elderly useful. Also speak with friends and neighbours nearby who may be able to help.
With some time and space to think, it’s important to next spend some time looking at your finances.
Your own finances and future financial security need to be given the highest priority. Then you turn to your children. Finally you can consider elderly parents. Your parents may well have their own financial security but be struggling to manage it. You can go through this with them and help where needed.
It is worth knowing that if your elderly relative is at the stage that they need care, either within the home or within a residential care home, there is help. Your first step is to get a Care Needs Assessment. This is the first step in identifying what care is needed and how it will be funded. You may also find this AgeUK information useful regarding how to pay for care.
Remember not to neglect your own retirement financial plans due to the generations above and below you.
Lastly, it’s important to be realistic about the care each party needs, including yourself. For dependent children this may simply mean being available and emotionally present. It may also mean such things as being their exam period cheer squad. However, for your elderly parents they may now have more complex physical care needs.
Consider how these needs can be met without making life too highly pressured for you. This may now mean that it is time to consider moving your parent into sheltered accommodation, residential care or more specialised nursing care.
Although it is understandable that a move to a care home feels an emotionally difficult step to take, it can often mean everyone within the family can thrive once again. By putting you back in the role of son or daughter, and not a carer, your relationship with your elderly parent can regain a strong footing. You’ll also get peace of mind that they are being cared for in the way they need, which is often impossible if you are still working and have dependent children living at home.
Lastly, do not neglect your own self-care. Being part of this generation so focused on caring for others can lead to burn-out. Remember to look after your own mental health and physical wellbeing. Take breaks where you can and spend some time on yourself.
Choosing the right care home to support your family can make an immensely powerful contribution to ease the difficulties of the sandwiched generation. Visit the proposed care home and get a feel for how your elderly parents will be looked after. You will likely discover that your negative assumptions are dispelled and you can move on to this next stage with confidence and relief.
Find out more about how we can care for your elderly parents here at Eastleigh Care Homes in Somerset and North Devon. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can help. Get in touch on 01769 573166.
Often relatives find that a care home enables them to feel less sandwiched, and more capable of being both parent and child across the generations.