Why are you so busy taking care of everyone else?

Multi-generational households now make up one-fifth of Australian families. What is happening to those of us who are feeling squashed in the sandwich generation?

If a growing percentage of us expect to be in a job until we are 70, it could be because we feel like we could do with a break from all the unpaid work our families require of us.

It used to be that our working lives were bookended by glorious years of freedom. When we finished our education and were still learning to be adults, we could spend our first wages with gleeful irresponsibility and travel the world.

Then, as we ground our way through our adult working and family lives, we could look forward to retirement when we would rediscover the delights of living to suit ourselves.

But now, gazing into the future, it is hard to see an end to the obligations and responsibilities.

Before we have even finished with our own careers, we are being pressed to help take care of our grandchildren, thanks to our kids (our kidults) delaying their own parenthood. At the same time, our own dear parents are living longer and need our time and attention.

This is one reason why multi-generational households now make up one-fifth of Australian families. People get married for the first time at the age of 29.9  for men and 28.3 for women, they have children at the age of 33 and 30.8, respectively, according to research house McCrindle.

Adult children who delay leaving home can save $15,000 per year in rent.

Leadership consultant, Avril Henry, knows the bind. At the age of 68, she is part of the “Sandwich Generation” - so called because everyone wants to take a bite from you.

“Our quality of life is compromised,” she says of the pressures.

Henry works five to six days a week in her own business and, between them, she and her husband have six adult children. There are also two parents, including one with dementia and the other ailing, requiring regular flights from Sydney to Perth to make sure that everything is all right.

“As the kidults start to have children, because of the lack of childcare and the lack of flexibility with childcare hours, they start asking you take a child one or two days a week.

“[Baby Boomers] are so excited about becoming grandparents that they say yes. But, then, they realise they are working part-time, they are looking after grandchildren and they are looking after elderly parents.

Avril -henry -wyza -com -au
Avril Henry works full time, has 6 'kidults' and 2 parents who need care, on the other side of the country
 

“Just when we thought we were going to zoom around the world in sports cars and on motorbikes, we are now pushing prams and waking frames,” she says.

Currently an estimated one in 10 retirees live in a retirement village or assisted living accommodation. The rest live at home, but are assisted by their children.

“Many of our ageing parents don’t want to go into a retirement villages or palliative care facilities,” says Henry.

People in the Sandwich Generation (usually between 50 and 65 years old) have to be firm about taking care of their own needs, otherwise they could be overwhelmed by the stress of always being at someone else’s beck and call. 

“I am personally saying to my kids that there will be boundaries. I've worked my arse off and I may help with grandchildren and I will help with my partner’s parents, but they also have to understand that unless I set boundaries, I am going to end up really tired and sick.

“That is the risk for our generation.”

Henry, who consults to the armed forces and corporate Australia is no way ready to retire, but would like to reduce her commitment to three days a week.

“I just can't at the moment. I feel my work is making a difference and that is what is driving me.”

A survey of almost 8,000 Australians aged 50+ in March 2016 by MevCorp, on behalf of WYZA®, finds that, despite the added responsibilities, people 50+ are still very forward and outward looking - wanting to travel, get or stay healthy, explore new things, buy new things or switch things around. 

In terms of their most important priorities, the respondents were equally enthusiastic (72 per cent each) about spending time with family members and having space and time for themselves. Around 67 per cent love to travel, 61 per cent want to relax and feel centred and 62 per cent want to have fun and do stimulating things.

Is this an issue you or your parents are dealing with? We want to hear from you. Email us at admin@wyza.com.au.

Watch out for a series of six fascinating articles Fiona Smith is writing for us based on the latest information discovered about the 50+ age group in March 2016 by MevCorp on behalf of WYZA®

Read more from Fiona Smith:

Do you feel as though friends and family have a never-ending list of requests for your time? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.