Most carers have additional responsibilities to caring: many of us have dependent children as well. When we are pulled in two directions, it is called sandwich caring or dual caring. Sandwich carers work incredibly hard but it does take its toll. In this blog, we look at some of the challenges faced by sandwich carers, and what solutions are available.

Why do we become sandwich carers?

We usually become sandwich carers when we have first started a family of our own and then one of our parents or another relative falls ill and needs care. We find ourselves caring for our children while also having to care for the older generation. This also means that sandwich carers are usually people of working age, and our jobs can be affected by our responsibilities to our families.

The facts that we generally live longer than we used to, and often choose to have children later, both contribute to the rise in sandwich carer numbers.

What challenges do sandwich carers face?

Like all carers, sandwich carers face emotional, practical and financial challenges.

Caring takes its toll on our relationships with partners and friends. With the pressures of looking after older and younger members of our family, as well as perhaps holding down a job, many sandwich carers experience stress.

As parents of young children and teenagers, it’s easy to feel guilty for not giving them the time we would like to. Caring for our own parents can also complicate family life. When our parents don’t live with us and we have to go to their house to care for them, childcare is an essential part of the picture. When those we care for do live with us, it impacts the whole family and our children inevitably becoming young carers.

The dual responsibilities of caring and raising children can make it difficult to work full time, and this can put families under financial pressure. Some of us may have adult children who are still financially dependent on us, either because they’re studying or because they’re in the growing number of twenty-somethings who can’t afford to move out.

More of us might be sandwich carers than figures suggest. This is because most care statistics relate to people who provide more than twenty hours care per week. However, when we are caring for both the older and younger generation at the same time, we may fall below the twenty-hour threshold. This means we might miss out on both carer’s allowance and the right support. And because we are not “counted” our experiences don’t help to inform government decisions about how best to help sandwich carers.

What support do sandwich carers need?

Of course, all situations are different and one family’s needs may not mirror those of another sandwich carer. However, a survey by Care UK shows that most sandwich carers would find either help with housework, or respite care the best solution to their care load. Only a small proportion felt that more childcare would be helpful.

Respite care is not always available as sandwich carers are not necessarily full-time carers. However, need is assessed on a case-by-case basis, so it is always worth asking for help if you are struggling. Privately funded respite care is another option.

The Care UK research also highlighted the need to educate employers about the role of carers, enabling employers to be more flexible and supportive. With the high cost of residential care, as well as the fact that people are living longer, more people are carers now than in the past. While there have been many positive changes in employment law to recognise the responsibilities of being a parent, carers’ rights still lag behind. Usually it is up to individual employers to put the right systems in place to both retain their staff and help them meet their other responsibilities.

To address this, Crossroads Care Surrey have put together information for employers about the value of offering flexible working and how to create a more supportive environment at work. Find out more – and direct your employer! – here.

Sandwich carers carry a great load, often holding together three generations of their family and working as well. We all admire the huge contribution they make. Those of us who are not sandwich carers but have friends who are, should reach out and give what support we can. Even small contributions can make a difference, like hanging out the washing or taking family members out for a walk.

We become sandwich carers because we love our families. We know the commitment we have made is the right choice, but getting even a small break from time to time enables us to keep going.