09/11/2010 09:57 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Sandwich Generation: Caring For Elderly Parents While Bringing Up Children

I was late picking up my daughter from school today. I'd been at my mum's and we'd had lunch, and as usual I'd under estimated the time it would take me to collect her, take her out and then safely install her back home before dashing off to do school pick-up.

And I'm one of the lucky ones. My lovely mum, although 86, still lives in her own home, is of sound mind and lives a pretty active life. As my friend Carol mused: "You just have to accept your mum walks at the same pace as a toddler taking their first steps – allow enough time and it will be fine."

But actually a non-scientific straw poll amongst my fellow mum friends found we are increasingly frazzled as we try to juggle parent-care with child-care – the so called "Sandwich Generation" is booming.

Helen Broner (*) is an only child who now has responsibility for her mum Ruth. Helen's dad died two years ago, and almost immediately it became clear to Helen (who doesn't live near her mum) that her dad had been covering up just how bad her mum's dementia was.

"It became evident pretty early on that mum couldn't be left alone in her home," recalls Helen. "But we live four hours from her, I work part-time and have a husband (who works away a lot) and four children. I was at my wits' end – I just didn't know what to do."

Eventually, after much soul-searching and with her mum's agreement – in so far as she was able to agree – Helen moved Ruth into a residential hotel, a sort of halfway house between a care home and sheltered accommodation.

"So far it's worked, but that's because mum's friends have been very good at popping in to see her on a regular basis. However I also visit once a month, but that involves torturous overnight trips which also mean complicated childcare arrangements involving my husband and numerous friends – I'm not sure how long the goodwill will last," says Helen.

It's a sentiment echoed throughout family homes across the land. My friend Henry and his siblings share the care for their elderly quite frail father, who still lives in his own home but who cannot cook or clean for himself anymore. Henry explains about the rota he and his siblings sign up for, whereby their dad goes to one of his three children every Sunday.

"It works because it means the care is shared, but sometimes it gets quite complicated," he says. "Now my own sons' football season has started again it can be a real challenge – do I wrap up dad and take him out in his wheelchair whilst I cheer my boys on from the sideline, and dad gets cold, or on "my Sunday" do I abandon my sons and put dad first?"


The only saving grace is that we know we're not alone. Sharing your worries over a cuppa with a good friend sometimes does the trick. If not, Age UK, the leading charity for all matters to do with ageing, is well aware of the pressures facing younger people trying to look after elderly parents whilst juggling a family. They have produced a book, entitled "Caring for a parent in later life" by Judith Cameron, priced £8.99.

As the blurb explains, as well as providing practical information on every aspect of care, the guide "deals frankly with the sometimes harsh realities of looking after someone on whom we ourselves were once wholly dependent".

As Helen Bronner observes "There are no easy solutions – I think the guilt of what I feel I've 'done' to mum is the hardest thing to deal with. I hope my own children never find themselves in this position – it's a hard place to be."

* Names have been changed.

Are you caring for an elderly parent while bringing up your children? Have you any advice to share?