National Sandwich Generation Month

24 Feb 2017

With July nearly here, your family's care needs might be making you feel squeezed. That's why Liz thinks we need a 'National Sandwich Generation Month'.

According to places that know things about Things, July is, or might be, or was once, or probably should be, National Sandwich Generation Month. Delicious as this sounds, conjuring up mouth-watering images of a whole generation of something-somethings chomping heartily on BLTs and cheese and pickle baps, chowing down in their thousands on glorious mouthfuls of tuna mayo, pulled pork or crayfish, National Sandwich Generation Month is a little less…tasty.
It is, in fact, all about those of us – and yes, I am almost one – who form the meat in the family sandwich, between children at one end and elderly parents at the other - and we have to care for both.
This may not sound like a new thing.
Surely people have always cared for their older parents, and looked after their children.
Yes, they have. But not both at the same time. At least, not in such numbers as we are now.
Which numbers, you ask? Well, according to a survey by carersuk, there are a staggering 2.4 million people sandwiched between providing support to an older adult with disabilities or chronic illnesses, and who have children to care for as well.
And middle-aged women are most affected. Want some more numbers? OK, try these:
1 in 4 ‘baby-boomer’ women (aged 50-64) are now carers. This compares with 1 in 6 men of this age. This female ‘meat-in-the-sandwich’ army of carers has risen by 13% in the last ten years, to 1.2 million, in the last ten years.
And even for younger women in their 40s, being caught in the sandwich is a growing problem. Women in their 40 are ever more likely to have to give up work or reduce their working hours, to care for members of their family at both ends of the age spectrum.
Why are there so many of us?
The reasons for this marked increase in we Sandwich Fillings are twofold, and fairly obvious when one thinks of them: Firstly, women are having children slightly later, on average, than, say, fifty years ago. This means that they have children at home and needing care, until they are well into their 40s, and possibly early 50s.
Added to this is the slice of bread at the top; the elderly are living longer. So there we are, with little ones still at home, when we’re desperately trying to have something that resembles a career, and meanwhile our parents, the selfish so-and-sos, GET OLD, and start to need our help as well! Cue being stretched to breaking point.
And nobody wants a sandwich where the filling is falling apart.
So. What can be done to help those of us who feel we’ve been turned into tuna mayo, and we can’t breathe?
First up, try to reduce the load. You can’t do it all. No really, you can’t. If you try to, you will be squished out all over the place, both pieces of sandwich break will crumble, and everything will get horrible messy. (We may have to leave the sandwich analogy soon. I think that would be best for our sanity.)
Wherever you can, try to get some help. Do you have siblings? Then make sure they are pulling their weight with your parents’ care. Is there a person nearby who can help out with the children a couple of times a week, to free up some time for you to go and check on your mother? Then make that happen. It might also be a very good idea to talk to your employer and see if you can negotiate more flexible hours for a while (without cutting your pay!), until things get a little easier for you.
Don’t forget YOURSELF. In our quest to help others, it’s very easy to feel guilty if we spend any time, or take any care of, ourselves. This is superbad thinking. I know this, because I do it, and it makes me exhausted and ill. Please be more sensible than me, and look after yourself, guilt-free. You are important. You are allowed to take time for yourself. And if you do, you’ll be a better person for everyone else too.
When time is tight and you have a million things to do, prioritizing can be a life-saver. If that laundry can wait, then let it wait. If the lounge really doesn’t need hovering, leave it. No, you don’t have to write a letter to your friend to thank her for coming round on Sunday. It’s fine. She understands. Save your energy and your time for the things that really matter, and need doing now. Then you’ll have more energy to write that letter at a time when you are calm, and can breathe.
And finally, try to remember that it’s not forever. One day, sooner than you can believe, your children WILL grow up, and you won’t have to look after them so much any more. And you’ll miss them. Similarly, when your parents are gone, you’ll wish they were back.
It’s always hard to think like this when you’re torn in every direction and are massively over-worked. But just remembering that this is temporary, and trying to value the time we DO have with our children and our parents, can help to ease the strain a little.
To bring our old, wilting sandwich analogy back one last time; if you’re going to be a filling, be the best, healthiest, tastiest filling you can be. It’ll make for a much better sandwich.
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