Women caught in the middle

Women are being forced to take on the role of multigenerational carers, with ever increasing numbers balancing motherhood, parental care and a professional career.



After several unsuccessful IVF attempts, Melbourne woman Jo finally had the baby girl she had always dreamed of. Two years later, her mother’s cancer returned. The family was told to prepare for the worst.

“I didn’t hesitate – Mum moved in with me and I provided palliative care. I put my hand up for my own peace of mind,” Jo explains. “It was really hard to keep going. I was torn between keeping it together for my bubbly little girl and crying on the inside for my dying Mum.”

Jo’s mother, who was born in Cypress, lived with her for six months. She was in and out of hospital with complications before she passed away in 2015. Jo, received a carer’s payment from Centrelink. Her three siblings happily covered household expenses during those six months when dividing their late mother’s estate.

Aged Care Steps Director Assyat David says many Australian women care for their elderly parents for many years – the average is four-six years – while maintaining a career and raising their own children and even grandchildren.

“Life expectancy is increasing so many Australians reach the age they require disability support and aged care,” David says. “Caring for a parent over a significant period of time – from helping with everyday things like shopping and appointments to financial support and accessing professional aged care – can put a real strain on your own family situation.”

Difficult balance

It can also cause financial strain and an array of complex challenges in trying to achieve some balance and quality of life.

Mercer financial adviser Paul Bowen is often called on to be an impartial voice of reason to help families implement a crisis management plan, particularly for those sandwiched between older and younger generations. Some struggle to navigate the process of contacting solicitors or accountants and dealing with the financial side of things, Bowen says.

“Families are often thrown into having these complex discussions when they’re facing a difficult and emotive time,” he says. “It’s not fair that the financial and emotional brunt falls to one sibling just because they live closer to the parent, for example.”

Bowen advocates a proactive approach and trying to be as rational as possible. It also helps to try to anticipate some of the potential problems.

“An open and honest meeting – ahead of any unforeseen circumstances – to agree on parental care before it’s needed removes the emotion from the conversation,” he says.

Numbers rising

About 10 per cent of women in developed countries find themselves sandwiched between paid employment and ongoing, multigenerational caring responsibilities for at least one child and one parent or parent-in-law, according to a 2016 research report by Dr Kiah Evans of Edith Cowan University in Perth.

Evans found that the number of multigenerational carers is increasing, though exact figures in Australia are hard to determine. The combination of these roles can have detrimental effects such as unrealistic expectations, negative emotional spill-over and time squeeze, Evans reports.

Women’s increased participation in the workforce, childbirth at an older age, an ageing population and a trend towards community-based care all point towards a growing number of “sandwiched” women, Evans predicts.

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17 April 2017