They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what if your caregiving abilities extend beyond your own children, and you lack the support of an entire village? In Australia, there is a growing list of people caught in the ‘sandwich generation’. Heard of it?
Well, how did the term come about and how can families work together to share the caregiving load? Learn more below.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
The ‘sandwich generation’ has a literal meaning. Coined in 1981 by American professor Dorothy Miller, it was generally regarded as the domain of middle-aged women.
Today, it refers to those who are ‘sandwiched’ between two generations – caring for their ageing parents as well as their own children (and themselves!) For this reason, they are often juggling responsibilities such as helping loved ones with daily functioning, giving medications, and/or helping with the financial, legal, and emotional difficulties of their loved ones.
In addition to managing their personal needs, the sandwich generation contends with escalating emotional and financial pressures, leading to heightened stress levels in many cases.
Why is the concept of the ‘sandwich generation’ back in the news?
While not a new concept, the term ‘sandwich generation’ (and references to it) is resurfacing. This is because young people are opting to stay in the family home for longer, while the elderly are typically living longer. By virtue of the fact that everyone is in the same space, the sandwich generation is becoming, well, “sandwiched” sooner as they are being asked to offer broader support earlier on.
Why was the sandwich generation once thought to be just women?
While it was generally regarded as the domain of middle-aged women back in the eighties, now, the “sandwich” is thought to stretch to adults of any gender in their early 30s to those in their 60s.
Due to the gendered nature of care, figures from the 2022 HILDA survey show that women are more likely to be carers than men, with 10.3 percent of women over 15 providing unpaid care, compared with 6.3 percent of men. It also revealed that women aged between 50 and 60 were the biggest providers of unpaid, ongoing care. No surprise there. (Sadly.)
How families can work together to share the caregiving load
If you’re struggling to care for a loved one or you’re looking for some tips to help a family member who is a sole carer, discover some pointers below.
Spread the caregiving load
Navigating the caregiving responsibilities for siblings looking after ageing parents can pose significant challenges. While it’s common for one sibling to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, it’s crucial to address this imbalance and ask for help. Consider initiating a family meeting, organising in-home respite care and communicating with your parent to ensure they’re not unintentionally downplaying their needs to your siblings. Many options exist to navigate these tricky situations, but the bottom line is that caregiving is hard work, and the onus shouldn’t fall on you alone.
While not everyone has siblings or expansive family networks, it's important to recognise that support is readily accessible, ranging from short-term respite to residential aged care.
Write a list of caregiving responsibilities
At times, people may wish to assist but may be unsure about how to do so. Consider compiling a list of tasks that you find challenging to manage due to time constraints or tasks where you genuinely need support. Sharing these lists with your siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins empowers them to choose how they can be of help.
Communication is key
If you’re on good terms with your family members, the best thing to do is communicate. Tell your siblings how you are feeling and let them know that you need a break when it gets too much. It’s also important that they know how they can best care for your parents. The more your siblings know, the better placed they will be to help out.
As a Millennial, you may grapple with a universal reality – the likelihood that you’ll be tasked with managing your parents’ estate in the future, while also considering that your children (or future children) will one day navigate the complexities of yours. (Or, you may be part of Gen X, and you’re already there.) Given this weighty responsibility, engaging in open conversations and organisation your affairs has never been more crucial.
Part of the sandwich generation, and looking for some guidance? Get in touch with our friendly team today. We’ll guide you through the steps.