How to cope when caring for both kids and parents

how to cope with caring for kids and parents

by take-a-break |
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Caring for both kids and parents, it’s easy to forget your own mental wellbeing. Here’s how to navigate the sandwich generation

Our personal lives are open to a continuous series of challenges, but the day-to-day struggles of one group in particular, termed the sandwich generation, can lead to intense feelings of strain and exhaustion.

Adults in their 40s and 50s who are caring for their ageing parents, as well as raising or supporting their growing children, are dealing with a host of responsibilities that can have implications for their own mental health.

There are now 1.3 million people in the UK with this twin responsibility and it’s been reported that sandwich carers are more likely to experience poor mental health, including anxiety and depression. They might also feel less satisfied with their lives and struggle financially.


Clinical psychologist and author Dr Kirren Schnack has 20 years’ experience in psychological assessment and the treatment of adults, children and their families, including those within the sandwich generation.

She says: ‘People fulfilling this dual role encompass various aspects. Financially, they navigate the needs of their children and may also contribute to the management or financial wellbeing of elderly parents, addressing lifestyle changes, care needs and the increasing costs of living.

‘Emotionally, they provide support to children facing challenges, while offering companionship and understanding to elderly parents dealing with health issues, lifestyle adjustments and potential loss. Managing medical appointments and medications, and ensuring access to healthcare services is a shared responsibility for both generations.

‘The multifaceted role of the sandwich generation extends to housing support, crisis management, legal and admin tasks, time management, academic support, facilitating intergenerational communication, and addressing end-of-life planning.

‘Balancing the needs of two distinct generations while also attending to their own personal needs presents a unique challenge.’

In the balance

Being in the middle of caring for two generations does of course have its positives — spending more time with loved ones and experiencing the feeling of giving back can be extremely fulfilling. However, being part of the sandwich generation can profoundly impact your own ‘normal’ daily life, anxiety levels and overall mental wellbeing.

‘Balancing the needs of both younger and older family members can feel relentless — consuming time, energy and other resources that you may not feel you have or would prefer to use to meet your own needs,’ says Dr Kirren.

‘The constant juggling act often leads to emotional exhaustion, heightened stress levels and an overwhelming sense of responsibility.’

She explains that the wellbeing of those caught in the sandwich can be compromised as the weight of caregiving takes its toll, adding: ‘If they are not able to make time for their own needs and take care of their emotional wellbeing, it can result in burnout, heightened anxiety and depression.

‘The emotional baggage accumulated from prolonged periods of caregiving without self-care can also strain relationships, both within the family and with others.’

According to Dr Kirren, the importance of carving out time to meet your own personal and emotional needs is paramount if you want to navigate daily demands as effectively as possible.

It's not unusual to feel discomfort, guilt or worry about others when making time for yourself, but Dr Kirren believes caring for others effectively begins with caring for yourself.

She says: ‘Identify aspects of your responsibilities that can be let go to create breathing space and extra time so you can seek help to meet your own needs — you matter too.

‘Utilise pockets of time to prioritise activities that bring you personal joy or try activities you find relaxing.’

Establishing a support system among friends, family or support groups in which to share experiences can alleviate the burden of these challenges. Dr Kirren also expresses how important it is to learn to delegate.

‘Be cautious not to take on additional responsibilities,’ she says. ‘Instead, maintain clear boundaries, learn to say no when you need to, and don't hesitate to hand over tasks to others you trust — all of these will help to prevent burnout.

‘Remember, prioritising your own mental health is paramount. Self-care is never selfish, but a fundamental aspect of effective and sustainable caregiving.’

If signs of burnout, anxiety or depression arise, consult your GP for additional support.

Edited by Julia Sidwell

• Dr Kirren can be found at

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