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The Sandwich Effect

By Melody Mensah | Team MM

The Sandwich Effect is a topic that is generating conversation and has raised points of concern for many…

…particularly those affected by this social phenomenon. The term ‘Sandwich generation’ originally dates back to 1981 and describes adults who simultaneously care for their children and parents. This is becoming increasingly common, particularly among women aged between 40 and 60 and affects over 3 million people in the UK today. Approximately 66% of caregivers are women, however, in recent years we have seen an increase in the number of men taking up this caregiving role. With an ageing population in which people are starting families later, ‘sandwich caring’ responsibilities are on the rise and it is women who are more likely to face the pressure of simultaneously shouldering responsibility for the young and old.

A recent UK study found that women were four times more likely than men to have given up work due to multiple caring responsibilities. In such a fast-paced economy, where living costs and the ageing population are rapidly rising, individuals are forced to adapt their lifestyles. As a result, many women are under extreme pressure to raise their own children, support their parents, support their husband or partner, and manage their work schedule in addition to dealing with the everyday demands of a busy life.

Sandwich carers commonly feel pulled in multiple directions and many feel trapped between their parents and children.

There are many things that accompany being a sandwich carer, such as stress, financial burden, overwhelming fatigue and emotional, physical and social strain. Sandwich carers commonly feel pulled in multiple directions and many feel trapped between their parents and children. In most cases, sandwich carers are relied on by both generations for emotional and financial support. These responsibilities can be extremely challenging for many especially in today’s society, where women are having children later. For many sandwich carers, life is lived right on the edge. It stands to reason that caregivers experience negative health issues and are risking caregiver burnout as they have a greater risk of health problems caused by heightened levels of stress. The physical stresses can almost become overwhelming, as high blood pressure, heart problems and weakened immune systems gradually take a toll.

There are many challenges, but the one universal point of concern for most women lies in making decisions based on prioritising everybody’s needs. For women going through the menopause, this can be even more frustrating especially when brain fog sets in. Balancing thoughts that range from the profound, “how do I best see to the needs of my children and parents?” to the mundane, “mustn’t forget to buy milk” can increase anxiety levels and lead to feelings of frustration, sometimes even spiralling into depression. Feeling torn between your children and your parents can be very disheartening. Knowing perhaps that you can’t make it to the school play or your child’s first big football match due to commitments as a carer can be very demoralising. Such factors accompanied by mood swings can make it difficult to manage multiple responsibilities.

A lot of the time we try to hold back personal feelings and emotions, forgetting that we need to cater to our own wellbeing in order to best care for others.

Some days, not being in the best of moods can manifest in our relationships as built up frustration is taken out on our children, friends, partner/husband and even our work colleagues. A lot of the time we try to hold back personal feelings and emotions, forgetting that we need to cater to our own wellbeing in order to best care for others. Feeling that we are failing our caregiving responsibilities is arguably a typically female mental process. Thus, we internalise our feelings, which, in time, manifests in physical and emotional and forms. Consequently, many women suffer from hypertension and depression. Research has shown that many women experiencing this split between their loved ones are finding it hard to cope; collapsing under the intense strain and are unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.

But don’t let that get you down. It isn’t all doom and gloom. It IS possible to care financially, practically and emotionally for both your children and your ageing parents, whilst making sure your needs are met. We can put a lot of it down to lifestyle. Here are a few steps to implement each day that will help you balance your priorities, emotions, mental, physical wellbeing and reducing stress.

Firstly, don’t be afraid to ask for help to share the load. You may handle most of the care duties, but that doesn’t mean that you solely need to do everything. Encourage your children to help out with some chores. This not only takes the weight off your shoulders but also teaches your children to be more independent. With respect to care, possibly ask your siblings (if you have them) to assist with some extra errands, who most often will be happy to help out wherever they can to ensure that you also have some vital time for self-care. There are many forms of respite care available: take advantage of them and choose the options suitable for you. This will ensure that you can spend more time with your children, husband/partner and friends and not feeling guilty or trapped between making sure that both your parents and children are taken care of.

Secondly, stay organised. This is crucial in managing your priorities. Start by making a list of all of the things you think need to be done, then prioritising them and taking anything out that is not urgent. Set yourself reminders during the day to make sure you’re on schedule. This will help to declutter your mind and enable you to deal with brain fog in a manageable way and focus on each task without needing to figure out what’s next.

Thirdly, if you’re working, speak to your boss. Try to negotiate a flexible schedule, which may involve working from home on certain days or starting/leaving earlier. This will help to manage your work life in a way that suits you.

The fourth tip is to plan your finances. It can be helpful to keep a record of your finances. Save money for essentials by reviewing your biggest costs and putting key dates in your diary for mortgage payments, annual car insurance and home insurance etc. Prioritise your savings and create a monthly budget that lets you work out how much you can comfortably set aside for essentials, emergencies, recreation and holidays. This will help to see your monthly cost and allow you to make savings in areas where you may be overspending. Keeping track of your money can be extremely beneficial in reducing financial strain and stress when dealing with financial pressures of supporting your household and parents at the same time.

Lastly, practice self-care. It is extremely important to take time out for yourself. Make sure that you get the rest that you need in order to help with increased levels of fatigue during the menopause. In addition, set aside time for your exercise regime but also take some time to meet up with your friends and have a girl’s night. Spending time with the people that will build you up the most will help to lift your confidence and stop your mind from dwelling on the anxieties of life. This may naturally have a positive effect on mood swings, levelling your thoughts and creating a happier outlook.

…balance your priorities and find strategies to help you efficiently care for your parents while at the same time caring for your household.

Each day, things change and you cannot be prepared for every circumstance that life throws at you. But what you can do is balance your priorities and find strategies to help you efficiently care for your parents while at the same time caring for your household. Caregiving, although challenging, can be a rewarding experience as it is possible to derive a sense of accomplishment and joy from helping others, despite the stresses involved. It also gives us an opportunity to honour our parents for the many years of love and care they gave us despite the challenges that they may have faced in their time. Reports also show that in some cases, having both children and aging parents can lead to closer family bonds between generations.

Although sandwich caring can be very difficult, with the right balance and a positive outlook we can add a flavoursome filling to the sandwich!