parent opinion

"The constant juggle is overwhelming." What it's really like to be in the 'sandwich generation'.

"Can you take me to the shops?"

"I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, I need a lift."

"I have work, can I take the car?"

If you, like me, are between about 40 and 50 years old, then you are likely to have received some of these messages. That is because we are what they often refer to as the 'sandwich generation'. 

And no, I am not part of the sandwich generation because I make sandwiches all day. 

This is the term coined to refer to anyone caring for their ageing parents while simultaneously raising their kids. 

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The mental load for most families falls on the shoulders of women, and caring for our ageing parents is just one more thing to juggle in our already busy lives.

I am fortunate that my son is old enough to have his licence, so he can drive himself wherever he needs to go. However, we often need to discuss the juggle of our second car. 

My daughters have part-time jobs which is fantastic, except the getting to and from work responsibility is something that falls mostly to me. My husband usually does the late night shift pick ups, unless he is having Zoom drinks with friends. 

There is enough negotiating in our house with three kids, two cars, and three drivers without adding into the mix ageing parents. 

My husband’s mother lives nearby in an aged care village. Fortunately, he has a sister close by and two other sisters, who share the load of caring for their mum, despite not living locally. 

On the other hand, my parents live about 90 minutes away from me and while they are in relatively good health and still live at home, there is always a worry in the back of my mind. Mum had a little eye problem not so long ago, but because of the current lockdowns in New South Wales, I couldn’t just pop down and check on them, which makes it hard. 

Now and then I will also get a call asking if I can help them with this or that. Typically, it is something to do with technology, though my brother usually gets the phone calls around how to program the TV. 

More recently with COVID, I have worried more about mum and dad because they are in the most at-risk age group. Thankfully, now that we've all had our vaccinations, we are all booked in for a visit as soon as we can. 

To be honest, I am a little luckier than many of my friends with ageing parents because my mum worked in aged care for a long time. Plus, both of my parents understand the importance of planning for the what ifs. Though, they are the big what ifs. It is actually the little day-to-day things that are really hard to juggle and manage. 

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I have friends who have parents in respite care, or in and out of hospital with infections, and they have to drop everything to race up to the hospital to drop off clothes for mum or dad. Or they will continually get phone calls from their parents asking when they can come home, knowing full well in their heart that mum or dad won’t be coming home. They have had the conversation many times, but it has been forgotten. 

The late lunch to race to a school assembly or parent-teacher interviews has been replaced with an early lunch because dad has made an appointment to see his GP for his driver's licence medical review. This doesn't go as he hoped and you know that this is going to be a long afternoon with dad, reassuring him that his doctor knows best. 

Secretly you are happy that someone else has made the decision that dad can no longer drive. Though you know in your heart this means more time away from work, more juggling, and more pretending to everyone that you can do it all. And while you wouldn't want to be anywhere but with your dad, you are thinking about the mountain of work you will need to catch up on and hope that no-one notices you haven't come back from lunch yet.

Your family and carers leave is no longer reserved just for sick kids, now you have to factor driving dad to appointments and the shops. An added juggle you take on lovingly, but in the back of your mind you wonder how will this impact your promotion prospects at work. 

In addition to the juggle of getting everyone everywhere, there is an added layer of grief. Grieving mum or dad while they are still physically here but slipping away just a little more each day compounds that mental load. 

There are so many moving parts in any family when there is just mum, dad and the kids to think about, add in ageing parents and that juggle can become overwhelming. Especially when in the middle of all of this you have a career as well. Or perhaps like me, you are just starting to re-establish yourself in the workforce because you took time out to raise your family. 

So, how do you juggle it all?

I love my parents to bits and my kids too but sometimes I simply can’t do it all. So what can I do and how can I make all the moving parts fit?

First, for our family, we have a joint calendar where everyone puts in all their appointments and work shifts - literally anything they have on that will affect anyone else in the family. 

Second, we work out what is a must do, nice to do, and what might not happen. Must dos for us are doctor's appointments and for me, my regular appointments with my psychologist as well as exercise. Other must dos are work for all of us, which does often involve a car juggle. The nice to dos are the visits with friends for my daughters, unless they can get there and back themselves. And the might not happen list is quite small, but I know this will change coming into summer with more social activities on the cards. 

Then we juggle the rest. We all try to take time out from our responsibilities when we can to re-charge whether that be a walk with a friend, or a round of golf for my husband. It doesn't really matter what we do; it is just time where we are taking a break from it all. 

There is no simple answer to being stuck in the middle of the sandwich, only that it is where myself - and many women - find themselves for now. 

Are you part of the sandwich generation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Feature Image: Getty.

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