The New Sandwich Generation
5 Tips to Cope While Raising Children & Caring for Elderly Parents

parent and child holding hands talking. Indicative of how to care for elderly parents in the context of article about the sandwich generation.

How To Care For Elderly Parents In The Sandwich Generation

Before I get into exploring how to care for your elderly parents I want you to know something important – you are not alone. You are one of many in a large group of people who are in this position and experiencing these pressures and challenges. I have written this article to share what you need to know to ensure you are supported through this challenging period of your life.


Challenges Faced By The Sandwich Generation

It is helpful to get some context on how you and so many others have found yourselves in this position. The Sandwich Generation started with the baby boomers. They were generally people in their mid 50’s, who found themselves with aging parents and either teenage children or young adult children living at home – going to university or trying to save money for their first property. This was the original Sandwich Generation. 

There’s been a creep of this into what I call the Wafer Generation.


The Wafer Generation

This is the group of people who today, are generally in their 30’s and 40’s and have aging parents and young children. Both parents tend to be working and are considerably time poor. There is no buffer zone for these people. They are suffering from burnout, stress and the pressure of having self-care squeezed in, wafer-thin, between caring for parents and children. It is contributing to the mental health issues that are so present right now.

It’s not all bad news though…

A big difference and benefit for the Wafer Generation is that mental health is being spoken about now, unlike in the Sandwich Generation, and there are many resources available to support those of you who find yourself in this position.

There are constructive ways to work through this stage of your life as one of the Wafer Generation and from my years of helping people through countless situations like these, I’ve compiled five pragmatic and helpful tips to help you get started on your path to help you care for your parents.


How You Can Help Care For Your Elderly Parent


1. Become Empowered

If you see yourself as part of the Sandwich or Wafer Generation, it is important to acknowledge that you will need to plug in and be proactive to get the resources you need. This is not temporary and you cannot do it alone. That said, you can get on top of it and it need not overwhelm or consume you. 

It is also about acknowledging that being in this position is ‘a real thing’ and on that basis saying to yourself something like this: ‘Given that I am going to have to be involved in looking after my parents while I also have the kids at home, it is okay for me to step up and have a conversation with my parents about the future. I am going to need to set parameters with them’.

To do this, you will need to…


2. Start Conversations Early

It is vital to ensure that you introduce these conversations as early as possible. Not long lengthy conversations but short, gentle conversations that become part of your regular, natural conversations.

Keeping the lines of communication open is key. It is common to find that your Mum and Dad won’t want to talk about these topics for a whole host of reasons but for your sake, and theirs, broaching these topics early is essential.

Here are some conversation openers: 

“Mum and Dad, how can I be helping you?”

“What do you need right now?”

“What do you think we’re going to need in the future?” 

These conversations need to be done in a way that is constructive from the outset or you can put yourself at risk of losing ground. If things become testy or too-high stakes too early, you can lose the momentum you and they need.

Be upfront and gently explain to your parents that with both of you working these things need to be discussed. Making it known that there are limited time resources and there will need to be a sharing of the load between you and your partner (and siblings if you have them or they are involved), is vital. They need to know that you will need to be organised to make it all possible.

Endeavour to weave these conversations into the fabric of the family that you can have the conversations you need to. Importantly, if you have siblings, they also need to be part of these conversations so that when things do evolve, everyone is aware and on the same page.

Homes now cost ten times the average wage whereas for our parents’ generation, homes were five times the annual income and for many, only one person in the family had to be working. If your parents are part of the generation that were able to take their parents to the Doctor on demand, it is important that they understand that it may not be logistically possible for you to do the same given your circumstances. The Wafer Generation do not have the buffer zones that previous generations had and you as their children cannot always be available, even if you dearly wish you could be. 

Even the most well intentioned of people will not be financially able to take time away from work (or their children’s obligations) to assist in this way so this needs to be discussed as well.

It is vital that you don’t wait for a medical event to trigger these conversations, as so many often do. Having these conversations early will allow your parents, you and your siblings to be confident in any decision making. There is so much additional stress if you need to ‘figure all this out’ when a medical event does occur. Having these things clear and detailed now will reduce some of the stress later.

There is no such thing as ‘too early’ when it comes to these conversations.


3. Plan For Health As Well As Finances

You will have heard the saying ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.’ 

Many times people plan their finances and have a will drawn up but they do not clear plans about what is to happen in the event of ailing health.

The harsh reality is that when there are question marks around what your parents wish will happen upon their ill-health or incapacity to make decisions for themselves, this can create considerable stress. It can often also create disharmony as you and your siblings deliberate and sometimes debate about what should occur.

Advance Health Directives and other planning related to assistance and Aged Care are all important elements that need to be planned out and intentions documented along with a comprehensive strategy for how this will all eventuate. These directives, in conjunction with Estate Planning will ensure that everything that your parents wish to happen will be able to occur. 

This includes finances. A will is often not enough for most Australians. What is detailed in a will cannot always be realised for many families which creates added pressure and potential conflict with others.

In my years as an Estate Planner, I have seen too many instances where people have not had their intentions carried out because their will was written without the expertise of someone who has a comprehensive understanding of everything that needs to be taken into account. It is heartbreaking to see that written wishes cannot be upheld because the right advice was not sought.

When all of your parents health and financial wishes are determined with detail, this reduces the stress of decision making and you can focus on spending time with your parents, not problem solving and getting your head around all of the things that need to be dealt with.

Many people require home support services as they age and some cannot stay in their home and need to be placed into aged care residences. For those who do not have clear plans set, far more than you might imagine end up in second-rate accommodation. This is not because they cannot afford better or closer accommodation, but because the planning commenced only as the need arose. 

This is a heartbreaking outcome for many. Often people are shocked and dismayed by the wait times or inability to find a space at a specific aged care facility. There is also much to be organised to get support if your parents are able to stay in their own home and so planning ahead can take some of the pressure out of all that needs to be considered. For too many the outcome is catastrophic compared to what they imagined would be possible and due to the inability to control the outcome, clinical exhaustion and breakdowns of people in the Wafer Generation are not uncommon.

While the process of getting support in the home or finding an aged care facility is somewhat simpler than in the past, there are so many variables and the changes in this area happen incredibly fast. 

Have the conversations and seek the support of people who specialise in helping families like yours put these plans into place.


4. Seek Out Reliable Resources

This is important, sensitive work and the professionals you engage to assist your parents need to be considered carefully. 

Making decisions with good intentions is one thing but seeking advice from people who have great experience in this area is a step in the right direction. Be cautious of the razzle dazzle that is out there when it comes to making decisions affecting your parents. People have come to me for support after being led down the garden path and it is heartbreaking to see when plans are not able to eventuate. 

Ensure that the professionals you engage listen to the specific needs and wishes of your parents rather than suggest a generic solution. A good advisor will offer specific advice to match your parents’ particular circumstances. They will also be aware of developing changes to the aged care system and as laws change. It is a rapidly changing area so your advisor must be abreast of the most recent changes.

Your parents and you will benefit from the insights, experience and knowledge of people that work together collectively to ensure that your parents’ wishes will be upheld at any stage throughout their life. 

There is nothing much scarier for an elderly person than uncertainty and their wishes not being able to be realised. Good planning will alleviate this worry.


5. Connect For Self-Care

Given that this is a challenging experience however you look at it, rather than trying to go it alone and make decisions, look to connect with people who have what I call ‘Umbrella Experience’. That is, people who are across all matters that will affect your parents’ wishes and take into account superannuation, tax implications, health directives, care planning and more.

This is really a team effort so ensure you tap into the right resources to help you feel confident about the next steps for your parents and family.

So while the road ahead is one that will be challenging, know that you need not do it alone. Importantly though, you must seek out the support of trustworthy advisors so your parents, and you, can feel confident that their future is taken care of and so that you can avoid the enormous challenges that so many people find themselves facing when they do not seek support. 

We meet with people like you and your parents every day. We take the time needed to listen to your parents’ wishes about their health and their finances and ensure they understand the possibilities and options available to them. These steps to seek support are one of the key gifts you can make to your parents, and yourself, so informed decisions can be made about what they want to happen in their future, and ensure it will be able to eventuate.


Maylene Mole is the Principal Solicitor of Nextgen.Law and specialises in assisting people with care planning processes. The Nextgen.Law team helps parents and their children as they navigate conversations about care, and ensuring the right steps are taken now to ensure the intended outcomes can be realised.

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