Sandwich generation survival guide

Caring for ageing parents and children? Here’s how to cope when you’re doing it all.

By Sarah Lewis

With longer life expectancies and people starting families later than ever, many of us can expect to become part of the ‘sandwich generation’ at some point. 

The term refers to the growing number of people who are ‘sandwiched’ between ageing parents and children, caring for both at the same time. Some care for grandchildren too, making yet another layer of the sandwich (or grandwich)!

Sandwich natives have a lot on – often juggling caring responsibilities alongside a career. It’s no surprise, then, that they report high levels of stress, low levels of disposable income and little time to spend on themselves 1  2.

It’s not all bad news. Sandwich parents are greatly appreciated by the family members they support and are usually happy to help their loved ones. 

If you’re part of the sandwich, or could be in the future, there are some things you can do to make the best of this time.

Get the support you’re entitled to

Councils, social services and charities like Independent Age, Age UK and Marie Curie can be a good starting point for advice and offer help caring for elderly or unwell parents. 

Money Advice Service has a comprehensive list of what benefits people are entitled to if they need care.

It’s important to look after yourself, too. A third of sandwich carers report poor mental health 3. If you’re struggling to cope emotionally, speak to your GP or a mental health charity like Mind.

Talk to family and friends

Sandwich generation parents report high levels of stress and can feel isolated 2. They also have less time to spend on relationships, hobbies and socialising.

Speak to family and friends to see if they can offer any practical help to give you a break or if you just need someone to talk to.

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Work it out

A fifth of sandwich parents say caring has negatively affected their career 2, and this can put a serious dent in future earnings and pensions.

Most employers will have carers’ and flexible working policies. Speak to your employer to see if you can work flexibly or reduce hours temporarily, without affecting your career in the long-term.

Our Head of Savings and Retirement Alistair McQueen says: “With more people juggling caring responsibilities with careers, it’s important that employers accommodate these employees. In Aviva, for example, we give the same right to extra leave to people caring for elderly relatives as we give to parents of young children. We support flexible working in all positions. It’s a small step towards reflecting the changing pressures of modern life.

“This year we’ll launch a ‘mid-life-MOT’ for its employees aged 45 and over – providing guidance on how to manage our wealth, work and wellbeing as we progress through what can be the most challenging time in our lives.”

Get a Lasting Power of Attorney 

Almost 1 in 5 (17%) of sandwich parents say they help their parents with finances 2.

If a family member becomes mentally ill or unable to make decisions on their own behalf, a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) can help. It’s a legal document that specifies who can take control of finances and health matters like medical care. 

There are 2 types: 

  • A health and welfare LPA which details who can organise medical care, select a care home and refuse life-sustaining treatment, and
  • A property and financial affairs LPA, for who can make decisions about money and property, like collecting benefits and selling a home, on your behalf

Consider discussing this as early as possible – it could make a huge difference at a difficult time.

You’ll need to speak to a solicitor to draw up an LPA 4.

Insure success

Tell your home contents insurer if another person moves in – especially if they have valuables to protect. Travel insurers will usually want to know about any dependents too, especially if they are in ill health. If you have to cancel a trip because a close relative is seriously ill, you will usually be covered.

If your family rely on you financially, it’s also worth thinking about critical illness cover. If you are become unwell yourself, it could make a huge difference.

We offer all parents with a child under the age of 4 a year of free life insurance worth £15,000.

Boost pensions and savings

There are often bills associated with caring and a third of sandwich parents say they feel unable to plan financially. However, it’s vital you contribute to your own pension and savings if you are able to, as neglecting it will only create problems later on. 

Alistair says: “The sandwich years can often be the highest earning years of our working lives. They therefore often carry the greatest potential for us to financially prepare for our retirement. 

“However, faced with caring responsibilities it is understandable that a willingness to place the needs of others before our own can sometimes emerge. 

“Despite this pull to help, however, this is a time of life when it can sometimes be right to listen to our head before our heart. Sacrificing our savings today may ease an immediate strain, but it will likely result in greater financial strain tomorrow. And if this greater strain results in us being unable to fund our retirement, its impact will be felt by others beyond just ourselves.”

Generation rent

If you’re a sandwich generation parent with an adult child living at home, have a chat about rent.

Although most parents enjoy having grown-up kids around, it can cost thousands a year 5.

It can be difficult to talk about money but charging rent can help cover additional costs and teach healthy financial habits like budgeting. 

Read more about how much rent you should charge your adult kids. 

Childcare

42% of grandparents that care for their parents also help care for grandchildren 2, often to spare their families expensive nursery and after-school fees.

When children turn 3 parents are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare. If you’re an unregistered grandparent carer you can’t receive this compensation (and it’s a lengthy and expensive process to become a registered provider). If you’re feeling the strain, encourage your family to use their free hours at a nursery or pre-school.