My Family Care asks Vanessa: As the years go on, we are finding more and more people fall into what has been coined the "Sandwich Generation". What challenges arise for individuals who are caring for both children and their parents or a partner? What support can be provided to make this a positive situation?
The term Sandwich Generation was new to me. This is despite being passionate about issues around how people blend work and family. I guess the task of looking after your family, no matter what their needs, has been done in my own family and many families for centuries. There is however something different about the broader landscape today that means that individuals are sometimes unexpectedly looking after a range of people at the same time. In a way that perhaps they did not envisage and in a way that brings a raft of sometimes complex and competing emotions, as well as added responsibilities and demands on our time.
Sandwich carers describe the increasingly growing demographic of people who are combining the care of more than one generation. Typically that might include ageing parents and young children but can include disabled relatives or dependent spouses. Shrinking family networks means that many individuals are sometimes single handily having to provide physical, emotional and increasingly financial care to more than one loved one.
The Sandwich Generation is a growing population, and with the direction care is heading, there will be a lot more people joining the ranks in the near future (State of Care: Carers UK 2013). The state of care and proposed changes are not just an unfortunate and rare set of occurrences for a select few. It is an increasing common reality and likelihood for most of us. Social care funding has not kept up pace with the ageing population and more of us will be challenged by the demands of looking after our loved ones. Sandwich care is a term that if foreign to you now, is likely to find its way onto most of our social and personal radars in the very near future.
Acknowledgement is paramount
Perhaps it is this lack of identification with the title that is a good place to start when thinking about supporting Sandwich Carers. There does still seem to be a stigma for the title carer as many people feel they are being mothers, sons, partners or just compassionate. Acknowledging this fundamental life supporting role may very well be the most important step.
A common theme for many who find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by their care circumstances is the sense of invisibility. Your personal and professional network (which might include other family members, friends, professionals and social support agencies) will assume this is a role that you have consciously chosen and are therefore happily participating.
Others may not think to ask if you are coping when tasked with repeated trips to hospital, negotiating breakdowns in childcare, or even just the social and emotional "work" that you provide to someone that you care about: they need it, so you give it. It is this lack of appreciation for the work that is done that can leave people feeling burdened, overwhelmed and/or invisible.
Make no mistakes, it may very well be a conscious choice you made and even considered a sacred duty for many, but it is work. When thinking about supporting carers it makes sense to look at some of concepts that underpin how individuals manage their roles at work.
Inspired by the demands and control model of stress I encourage individuals to:
Review the demands on you
Whether you talk to someone close to you and use them as a sounding board to talk about what is required of you, or you sit down with a coach or even just regularly review your own needs, an appraisal of just what tasks are currently being performed is a major step in looking at how you or others can deliver them more effectively.
Ask yourself how you can engage the support networks that may be available. And look at where the pressures are coming from and who might be able to help.
- You may need to negotiate emotions of guilt, frustration or resentment. Working through the emotion will allow a more solutions focused outlook on some of the more practical considerations around making life easier such as more adaptable childcare and or better suited elderly care
- You may or may not have the help and support of other siblings and family members or even your employer. No matter how difficult it may be to engage with your manager, the complex social services and care system, other relatives and even the community, there are resources available and you may need to devise a personal strategy as to how you may get the best from them
- You and the individual you are caring for may communicate differently, and conflict resolution might be the key ingredient. Talking to other people and developing new strategies will help you to alleviate the stress caused by aggressive communication.
Acknowledge the lack of control on your life
Despite all of the work to contain the overspill of caring, it is worth acknowledging that there will still be instances when things can simply not be controlled. Particularly when caring for a loved one with complex or ever-changing medical conditions or inconsistent child care arrangements, things will break down. Others may not fit neatly into your plan and you may find that the best way to endure a demanding situation is to let go and allow things to run their course.
Sandwich Caring can be an opportunity to not just cope but to perhaps develop a mind-set and skill base that you can see pays dividends in others spheres of family and working life and beyond the caring role.
Vanessa Matthews, Life and Business Coach