Are you the meat (or plant-based filling) in the sandwich?!
As someone with neither living parents nor children, you may wonder why I have chosen to write about this topic. But I see this situation frequently.
As an outsider, I don’t get caught up in emotion. I can see the proverbial wood for the trees, and I can help!
So, if you feel like life is out of your control, both your kids and your parents are bombarding you more and more, you’re not alone; chances are you’re a member of the ever-growing 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 ageing parents and adult children are often referred to as the ‘Sandwich Generation.’
Members of the Sandwich Generation are caring and supporting emotionally and financially for their children and parents simultaneously.
If you find yourself in this position, you are not alone. As I mentioned in my introduction, I see this situation more and more.
Research from Ipsos MORI found that a quarter of the UK’s adult population has experienced ‘sandwich’ caring at some point in their lives; 10 per cent are currently, and over half are providing a mixture of both their time and financial support.
The pandemic has far from helped this situation either, with increasing reports of earlier cognitive decline in the elderly, believed to be a result of a reduction in stimulus, general health care provisions and isolation during its peak.
What is the impact of being a sandwiched carer?
It is often easier to think of the negative impact, but caring does have many positive associations.
The Ipsos MORI study found that two-thirds of participants agreed 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 be too much.
What feels like a heavy burden can make it challenging to plan for their futures, take up employment opportunities, and limit time to pursue their dreams and goals.
Additionally, providing care can negatively affect the emotional well-being of carers.
Caring for someone is hard work. Factor in that the person you care for is a family member you love, with little or no respite, and the pressure mounts.
With a parent, this is likely the person you have always looked upon to take care of you, and the role reversal can change who you are as a person.
Care for an elderly relative often is not planned, so they can find themselves unprepared when a first-time carer is needed.
Some carers reduce their working hours or give up work altogether, potentially impacting their finances, with many having to reduce what they are saving for their future or stop completely.
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 for whom they care.
And the pressure on sandwich carers doesn’t necessarily reduce when kids leave school.
The younger generation is finding it tougher to get on the career and property ladders. Look at what is going on with house prices on the island at the moment to see why.
These two issues alone formed the basis for most (if not all) manifestos in the general election, further proof that this is now a Manx problem too, and not something unique to the UK.
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.
Talk to your parents.
It is sometimes difficult to talk about the risks and impacts of growing old, and it can be challenging for our parents to acknowledge that they may need our help one day.
Hopefully, though, you can speak to your parents openly. And discussing the future and, in particular, how you will manage as a family if your parents need care in the future can help when that time comes.
It’s 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.
You know your parents best, so you are best placed to understand how to start the discussion tactfully.
However you approach this, it is crucial that everyone’s views are taken into account and that the conversation is revisited from time to time as the situation develops.
We are big advocates for a fabulous book on the subject, The Other Talk by AARP, and recommend getting hold of a copy.
Plan your finances
It is essential to consider the financial impact of finding yourself caring for children and elderly relatives simultaneously.
People often forget to include this scenario in their financial planning, and when first called upon to provide this dual caring role, the economic 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 financial future cope with this, or will they need to be adapted?
Teach your kids (grandchildren, nieces and nephews etc.) about money
Helping children understand money from an early age and helping them become responsible with money, with the goal of financial independence, is beneficial to both themselves and you.
Guiding them to develop good money-management skills is key to them gaining financial independence.
In my opinion, the humble money box still has its place in our modern online world!
For older children, set clear money rules. If they are working and living at home, ask them to contribute towards the household.
If you do not need this additional income financially, you could even consider saving or investing this for their future.
Either way, this is a good lesson; paying to ensure you have a roof over your head is a priority and should be paid for before anything else – always!
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 are often busy, 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. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a display of courage that you are prepared to ask.
Often you will find that other people are in the same boat. Also, find out what support is available locally.
There are respite services available at a number of the island’s care homes and help at-home services available via Government, charities and privately.
Talk to your employer or business partners
Whether employed or self-employed, any change in your circumstances, such as caring for two generations, will bring challenges.
It is essential 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 flexibly, even if only temporarily, can provide the space you need to sort some things out at home.
If one good thing has come from the pandemic, it’s the increased flexibility around working.
Although this work flexibility is not the case for everyone, as some jobs have to be done on-site, working from home (including more flexibility around hours) is the new norm for those with primarily office-based functions.
You may now be able to structure your work around your caring; however, doing what is effectively two full-time jobs will eventually take its toll, so care is needed to get the balance right between their welfare and your own.
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 telling them when you may not be available to respond to a call and set ground rules for working and having family time.
Review your financial planning
Many people find themselves suddenly caring for an elderly relative without having made plans. This change in circumstances 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 an excellent time to seek advice.
We often tell clients, ‘it is better to prepare than to repair’. Being slightly more pessimistic, I would go with ‘plan for the worst and hope for the best.’ It achieves the same outcome, though!
At Thornton, this is just one of the areas we focus on for our clients. We can consider the impact of numerous versions of the future, including being in the sandwich generation.