From an article in last Sunday’s Sunday Times:
You may not be part of Britain’s 6.4m-strong army of carers yet, but if your parents are still alive, the dilemmas surrounding how to look after them as they get older will surely come.
Future Identities, a government report published last week, drew attention to what one expert calls the biggest issue we face as a society. Because women are giving birth later in life, the baby-boomers’ time-poor children are increasingly being hit with a double whammy: they are having to care for their own offspring and their elderly parents simultaneously.
Christopher Lambert’s story is typical of this so-called Sandwich Generation. “My son was five, I was 58 and my dad was 87. I’d divorced my wife and was living back with Dad as his main carer,” he says. “My son would come at weekends, which was supposed to be our ‘special time’. It was bedlam. Dad would be screaming, ‘Breakfast! Breakfast!’ My son would be yelling, ‘Dad, Dad, you said you’d . . .’
“I felt trapped in the middle, the only grown-up. I remember being out in the garden and Dad collapsing on the ground and my son wanting to play football and me saying, ‘Let’s play looking after Grandpa,’ and he’d say, ‘No, that’s boring and he’s smelly.’ I was at my wits’ end.”
The feelings of conflicted loyalties, divided between the parents who raised you and the children who need you to raise them, are so common that more than 4 in 10 Sandwich Generation carers are struggling to cope or at breaking point, according to a recent survey by Carers UK.
The problem will only intensify as the postwar baby-boomers enter their seventies — by 2022 there will be a 20% rise in over-75s (up from 5.1m to 6.6m). “People live longer now with severe disabilities who would have died years ago,” says Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK. “A revolution is required in family care akin to the new understanding we have around working parents, as in the future so many of us will be juggling work around elder care and children.”
The forecast is also for the number of children aged under 16 to increase from 11.8m now to 13.2m in 2022, exacerbating the Sandwich Generation squeeze.