If you're looking after young – or even not so young – children at the same time as caring for or supporting an older relative, you're officially a member of the sandwich generation.
With a growing number of people having children later and life expectancies getting longer, many adults are finding themselves in a situation where they're bringing up their children at the same time that their parents start needing help.
And while there aren't any official statistics, the charity Carers UK estimates that, as a group, the sandwich generation numbers around 2.4 million people, typically between 40 and 60 years old.
How to survive the sandwich years
If you're juggling working with looking after your children as well as providing care for your parents or other older relatives, it's easy for things to get on top of you. But the good news is that there's help and support available that could make a big difference.
Here's what you can do:
Help with your finances
Supporting children and older parents can take a major toll on your bank balance. So try to make sure you're getting all the financial help you're entitled to.
The main financial benefit for carers is Carer's Allowance. This isn't a means-bested benefit, but there's a cap on how much you can earn from your job before you can get it. Eligibility for Carer's Allowance includes being aged 16 or older and caring for someone for at least 35 hours a week who gets certain benefits.
If you're looking after a child under the age of 16 with a health condition or disability, they may be entitled to Disability Living Allowance to help meet the cost of their needs. Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), are awarded to eligible people aged 16 to 64 with a long-term illness or disability. Meanwhile an older adult you're caring for who has a long-term illness or disability may be able to claim Attendance Allowance.
Bringing up a family and caring for older relatives can be stressful, and according to the Centre for Policy on Ageing's review, 70% of sandwich carers say their emotional wellbeing has been affected. So when you start feeling overwhelmed, it's important to have someone you can turn to, even if it's just for a friendly chat.
Our 24-hour emotional support ensures there is someone you can speak to round the clock. And for the times when that isn't enough, we can also provide you with access to our trained counsellors either face-to-face, online or over the phone. Call us on +44 (0) 1788 556 366 to chat to one of our advisors or to find out more about our counselling service.
Carers UK has carer support groups throughout the country. You can find out if there's one near you by visiting the Carer UK website. You can also contact them on 0808 808 7777 on Mondays and Tuesdays between 10am and 4pm, or visit their online forum to chat with other carers.
Talk to your employer
If you're juggling a job with caring for children and an older relative, being pulled in too many directions may require you to consider whether you're able to continue working. But if you do want to carry on working, have an honest talk with your employer to let them know about the pressures you face daily.
You could, for instance, make a request for flexible working hours, which could help you juggle your work and home life more effectively. Your employer may also be able to offer other practical support to make it easier for you to care for your family without giving up your job; they may, for instance, be able to give you help with understanding the care system. They may also be able to help with approved childcare costs using childcare vouchers or other schemes.
Look after yourself
When you're caring for everyone else it can be easy to neglect your own health and wellbeing. But if you develop a health problem, it can have knock-on effect for the people you care for. So try to eat as healthily as possible and get the rest you need. Staying active is also important, not just because physical fitness is essential for your health but it's also widely accepted that exercise can help protect against low mood and the negative effects of stress.
Putting yourself first may seem selfish, but taking some time out for yourself whenever you can provides many positive benefits, including reducing your stress levels.
Get some help
If you're the main person providing care in your family, that doesn't mean others can't pitch in too. If you have elderly parents, you may also have siblings who could help out on a regular basis. Or if your children are old enough they could help out around the house more.
You may also be able to get help with looking after older relatives from your local authority, including care services. These can include things like help with everyday tasks, access to adult day care centres and respite care when you need a break. Your local authority may also offer grants to help with home adaptations that could help your parent to live independently in their own home for longer.
How CABA can help
Our carer support officers can help you to deal with your local authority and social services. We also offer grants and donations to help you pay for home adaptations, specialist equipment, mobility aids and to help with the cost of respite care.
We're here whenever you need help, support or information that could help improve your wellbeing. Our services are free for ICAEW members, ACA students and their families.