I’m not quite sure when exactly the conversation with friends shifted from milestones and baby moments to ACAT assessments and the prospect of our parents moving in, but I do know the distance between the two major life moments was relatively short.
In many cases, it was less than a decade after welcoming our children into the world that we were tending to the generation before us as they exited out the other.
There’s a term for this phenomenon, and its glib nature belies a reality that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
As Generation X, we are officially the Sandwich Generation – and we are not the first to tread this path.
The Sandwich Generation is one wedged between two competing caregiving needs – those of our children and those of our parents.
The term first gained attention about 10 years ago. At this stage, the Baby Boomers who had delayed the decision to have children found themselves sandwiched between the needs of near-adult kids still living at home, and those of their parents who were entering their twilight years.
There were a couple of factors contributing to this trend. These included rising house prices, which saw adult children choose to remain at home, in addition to a shift at the other end of the spectrum which saw aging parents retain their independence, rather than going into aged care.
By 2017, the Sandwich Generation had become such common parlance, it was officially added to the Australian Oxford Dictionary.
Gen X has propagated the sandwich theory further. Not only are our parents often older because they delayed having children, we tend to be more mature parents as well.
Ultimately, this sees us wedged between the requirements of younger children, who might even be in their junior years at school, and older parents in their late ‘70s and early ‘80s whose care needs are increasing.
That means an average household conversation not only revolves around which parent takes what child to sport or music practice on what day, it also includes an increasing focus on the welfare of grandma, grandpa, nanna and pa.
And women, who tend to be Australia’s primary caregivers, are absolutely feeling the strain.
As the YWCA notes, women make up 70 per cent of primary unpaid care workers for children while 56.1 per cent of unpaid care workers who look after the elderly and/or people with health issues and disabilities are…you guessed it…also women.
Chances are, we also balance those needs with employment.
But it’s not a one-sided affair here either. Men are also shouldering the load, and in their case, that expectation is often financial.
For those in the thick of it, the sandwich generation can be hard going. Not only are you navigating the daily needs of a household with children, you are also negotiating a complex, tedious and time consuming aged care system as well.
There are documents to submit on behalf of your parents, appointments to help them attend, and when things take a downward turn, assessments to be made about the level of care required and how that will play out.
There is also a relentless interplay of guilt when it comes to whether you are meeting the needs of all involved.
On the flipside, some argue it’s also becoming a societal reality, and one many of us can relate to, as social researcher Mark McCrindle told the Sun Herald in 2017.
“Initially the tone of the conversation was quite negative — ‘the sandwich generation doing it tough’ — but now, I think more people are seeing it as a reality of a developed society where people are healthier for longer and can remain in their homes later in life,” he said.
For those of us in it, the merits of ensuring your parents are healthier, happier and enjoying independence later in life are absolutely worth it, but there’s no mistaking the pull between the generation that came before us and the one that will follow.
What though of the Sandwich Generation that lies between?