The true story of the sandwich generation

How to juggle caring for ageing parents, for your children – and yourself!

Balancing caring for your ageing parents and your kids? Here are some tips and reassurance from someone who is in a similar position.

Being a parent can be a tough job, and throw in caring for an elderly loved one and you can be left feeling like the proverbial meat in the sandwich. In fact, the term ‘sandwich generation’ has been coined to describe those dealing with these twin challenges. If this feels like you, then you’re part of a growing number of carers. 
 
Sarah Ali*, 45, is mum to four teenage children and has her 72-year-old mother and 83-year-old father-in-law living with them. Her mother-in-law was also in the family home before passing away three years ago.
 
For Ali, being the middle generation in her home is all about time management.
 
“I take them to medical appointments, and I’ll go into the appointments with my father-in-law because he’s hard of hearing. I also need to take Mum shopping or to places she hasn’t been before, because she’s not confident in doing those things by herself.”
 
With a job and four children in the mix, Ali is sometimes left feeling pulled in all directions, particularly when everyone has different needs. She says one of her challenges is that “It’s tricky having to cook for two more and, although they’re generally flexible, Mum needs a special diet for her high blood pressure.”
 
Ali has some tips for others in similar situations.

Don’t take things to heart

“Sometimes there are complaints or comments about how we do things, but I’ve learnt to let them go over my head and not dwell on them too much.”
 
However, it can be difficult to feel you’re being criticised, so make sure you have some support networks in place so you can get those frustrations off your chest.
Elderly woman and young woman

Get your kids involved

Ali says that because her children are older, she can ask them to help out around the house.
 
“I get the kids involved in their grandparents’ care and ask them to spend time with them. It creates bonds and helps the kids appreciate what it’s like to look after elderly parents.”
 
Whatever age your children are, it’s good to encourage the two generations to spend time together to gain an understanding of each other.
 
“I’m often trying to be the peacemaker when the kids and grandparents have disagreements. Both parents are very old-school and expect certain standards of the grandkids.”
 
These misunderstandings can be exhausting when you’re in the middle. Communication is the key to diffusing situations, where possible.

Take a break when you can

Consider who you have around you who might be able to help out sometimes. Are your parents well enough to look after your children so you can have a day off? Can your parents stay with others occasionally, so you can have time at home with your partner and children?
 
“It’s good to have a break when other family members can have our parents for a day or a weekend, on occasion.”
 
*Interviewee’s name has been changed

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