Are you the meat in the sandwich?
Are you feeling that life is out of control with more challenges being thrown at you, almost daily from both your kids and your parents? If so, the chances are like me, you’re a member of the Sandwich Generation.
What is the sandwich generation?
With the continuing growth in the elderly population, and as the next generation of young adults try to find their way in the world, people sandwiched between aging parents and adult children are often referred to as the ‘sandwich generation’. This is because they are put in the position to care for both their children and parents simultaneously; this support is often both emotional and financial.
If you find yourself in this position, you are not alone. Research from Ipsos MORI found that a quarter of the UK’s adult population have experienced ‘sandwich’ caring at some point in their lives; 10 per cent are currently.
Within this population, the types of care and support provided are varied with over half of sandwich carers providing a mixture of their time and financial support.
What is the impact of being a sandwiched carer?
This is often seen to have a negative impact but caring has many positive associations. Two thirds agree that caring ‘makes them feel good’ while seven in ten agree that caring has meant that they have a better relationship with their family members.
However, for some, caring for an elderly relative can feel like a heavy burden that can make it difficult to plan for their own futures, take up employment opportunities, and limit time to pursue their own interests and goals.
Additionally, providing care can negatively affect the emotional wellbeing of carers. Around two thirds stated that providing dual care can sometimes have a negative impact on their own emotional health, with carers having little time to socialise and limited opportunities for respite.
Often, caring for an elderly relative is not planned so when a first-time carer is called upon, they can find themselves unprepared. Some reduce their working hours or give up work altogether, potentially having an impact on their personal finances, with many having to reduce what they are saving for their future or stop altogether.
In addition, almost half of carers report that they provide financial support and estimate that on average they spend £10,400 per year on one or more generations that they care for. And the pressure on sandwich carers doesn’t necessarily reduce when kids leave school.
The younger generation are finding it tougher to get on the career and property ladders and recent figures from the office of national statistics show that more than a quarter of adults aged 20 to 34 are still living at home.
Juggling work and caring responsibilities across two generations can leave people with feelings of stress and guilt and often, carers don’t know where to turn for help.
So what are the options?
If you are not yet in the position of having to care for children and elderly relatives, there are some things that you can do now to plan ahead.
Talk to your parents
It is sometimes difficult to talk about the risks and impact associated with growing old and it can be hard for our parents to acknowledge that, one day, they may need our help. However, discussing the future and in particular, discussing how you will manage as a family if your parents need care in the future can really help when that time comes.
It is often good to start gently with a few conversations about some of the “what ifs” in life to see what plans your parents already have. If it feels like the right thing to do, you may want to add some research to your discussions from the likes of Age Concern or the Resolution Foundation. This can often help inform the conversation and show that many families have the same or similar challenges.
However you approach this, it is important that everyone’s views are taken into account and that the conversation is revisited from time to time as the situation develops.
There’s a fabulous book on the subject by AARP; The Other Talk. I recommend getting hold of a copy
Plan your finances
It is important to consider the financial impact of finding yourself caring for children and elderly relatives at the same time. All too often, people forget to include this scenario in their financial planning and when first called upon to provide this dual caring role, the financial shock can be significant. Think about how becoming a carer to two generations will impact your job and possibly your income. Will the plans you have for your own financial future be able to cope with this or will they need to be adapted?
Teach your kids about money
Helping your kids to understand money from an early age and helping them to become responsible with money and have the goal of financial independence is beneficial to both themselves and to you. Helping them to develop good money-management skills is key to them gaining financial independence. Encourage younger children to save from an early age, and for older children set clear money rules. For example, if they are working and living at home, ask them to contribute towards the household, but encourage them to save too.
If you find yourself already in a position of being a carer to two generations, there are things that you can do to improve the balance in your life.
Reach out to your support network
It is easy to feel isolated when you are caring for two generations. People often find that they have little time and there is societal pressure to ‘keep calm and carry on’. If you can, make time to talk to friends and family members about your situation. Often you will find that other people are in the same boat. Also, find out what support is available locally. Your local library or community centre is a great place to start.
Talk to your employer or business partners
Whether you are employed or self-employed, any change in your circumstances such as caring for two generations will bring challenges and it is important to be as open as you can about the challenges that it brings. Explaining the situation to your employer and discussing the possibility of working more flexibly, even if only on a temporary basis, can provide the space that you need to sort some things out at home.
If you run a business, keep your team informed and explain what support you will need. If you are a sole trader, try to manage your client’s expectations by informing them when you may not be available to respond to a call and set ground rules for when you are working and when you are having family time.
Review your financial planning
Many people find themselves suddenly caring for an elderly relative without having made plans. If this is the case, there can be a shock to your finances.
Once you have dealt with the immediate issues, make time to contact your financial planner and arrange an appointment. If you don’t have a financial planner, now might be a good time to seek some advice.
As with everything, ‘it is better to prepare than to repair’. I find myself saying this a lot! At Thornton, this is just one of the areas we focus on for our clients to make sure they’ve at least considered the impact of being in the sandwich generation.