5 tips to looking after yourself if you are part of the ‘sandwich generation’

By Megan Giles, Retirement Transition Consultant

The ‘sandwich generation’ is a term that was first coined by Dorothy Miller in the 1980s (1981) to refer to the group of people, and most commonly women, who find themselves responsible both for bringing up their own children (or caring for grandchildren) and caring for ageing parents.

The sandwich generation have parents who require assistance for going about their daily activities and typically don’t want ‘outside’ help (as this is seen as a slippery slope towards losing independence). Concurrently they may have children who have not yet left the family home or grandchildren for whom there is an expectation that regular baby-sitting will be provided.

Is caring for a parent a part of your plan for life after work. Taking care of yourself to best care for others.

The trend in our modern society is to marry and have children later, and so these dual-care needs tend to intersect at about the time people are considering retirement. It is the combination of care needs which ‘sandwich’ an individual and can create a sense of overwhelm and the need to put one’s own life on hold.

Supporting elderly parents is often the bigger challenge as it is not something we consider when we are young. For so long we see our parents as invincible and can’t imagine that they will ever grow old or frail. It simply doesn’t factor in our plans as young adults. Caring for elderly parents who are declining is often emotionally draining, particularly when the care tends to rest predominantly with one child.

For Sam* it is heartbreaking to visit her mother. She was once an energetic and quick-witted women but now suffers from advanced stages of dementia no longer recognises her only daughter. Gone is the easy banter and the inquiry about the goings-on of friends and family, and instead it is replaced by vacant eyes and a mere shadow of a vibrant woman.


Whether formally or informally, becoming a carer can take some adjusting, even if the change is positive such as spending time with grandchildren. Few people resent caring for loved ones but it can be disconcerting when your own plans and dreams are diverted.

If this sounds like you and your situation, rest a moment. Before you cancel your plans for that round-the-world trip, take a moment to consider the tips below.


1.       Be kind to yourself – you can’t care for others if you’re not looking after yourself

  • Take some time for you – go for that run, get your hair done, grab meal with friends. Doing things just for you will help you to recharge and gain a fresh perspective so that you are better positioned to help others
  • Be prepared to ask for help and don’t be afraid to accept help when it is offered – don’t feel you have to do it alone or that you are a burden on others. We’re all pretty amazing but no-one is Superwoman!

2.       Have a meaningful conversation with family members

If you find that care expectations are not working for you, bring the family together to discuss. Avoid assuming that others know how you’re feeling and seek to provide them with insight. The following may help to have a constructive conversation:

  • play the ball not the person’ and focus on behaviours rather than the person. As a general rule your loved one is not lazy  but rather it is (e.g.) their action (or inaction) of not visiting your father regularly that increases the burden on you. It is much easier for someone to alter a behaviour than to change a part of their personality (and they will likely only become defensive and disengage at that suggestion)!
  • Recognise there is no ‘single truth’ – each person will have their perspective and each is equally valid. Be curious and explore why it is that some family members are willing to provide more care than others – what else is going on for them.
  • Articulate your desires – Let your loved ones know what is important to you and paint a picture of what an alternative option might look like. Help them understand how their contribution might change/what the impact may be.

3.       Create care plans which ensure that you still do your stuff

  • Providing care should not mean that you have to put your life on hold. What it might mean is that more careful planning will be required
  • That overseas trip is still possible, it just means that you will need to let family members know in advance so that alternative care options can be put in place, e.g. respite care, increased daycare, or other family members stepping up for a period

4.       Get good support

  • This particularly applies to caring for elderly parents. Find out what they are entitled to, for example, through the Department of Veteran Affairs or through completing and ACAT assessment (in Australia only). Once approved they may be entitled to a home support package such as personal care, meal preparation, cleaning services, respite care, or permanent residential care.
  • If a paid carer is an option, take time to research and find a good personal fit. It will be a much more harmonious experience if there is good rapport. It will also save you time and headaches by not having to telephone the organisation explaining why your parent doesn’t like that particularly carer and rearranging schedules.
Planning for retirement and spending time with grandchildren. What will this look like for you?

5.       Laugh and love your loved ones

  • Whilst there are challenges associated with caring for loved ones, take time to reflect on the privilege of having them in your life
  • Sadly your parents won’t be around forever and your children and grandchildren will grow up and start leading their own lives away from you
  • Remember to laugh. When you find a shoe in your parents’ fridge, take a moment to laugh rather than despair

*Name changed

I’d love to learn from your experiences. Please share your challenges, or what you’ve found works for you and your family in the comments box below or on the facebook page.

Until next time!



If you enjoyed this, you may also like to read What should retirement look like for women over 60? and Life was great…until my husband retired!

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Miller, Dorothy (1981). The ‘sandwich’ generation: adult children with the aging, Social Work, 26(5), pp.419-423.