Mothers who are also carers
Sociologists define the “sandwich generation” as the cohort of mid-career employees “‘sandwiched between supporting the care demands of their children and parents”. Usually they are over 30 and juggle a full-time career with a full-time job at home. It is a growing generation as our society is facing the consequences of not having a coherent active aging strategy to cater for our society where people are living longer.
Governments often silently acknowledge the very important work done by such people who ease the pressures on publicly- financed nursing homes for the elderly. They occasionally grant some fiscal concession to encourage family carers to continue with their good work. But more is needed to support the sandwich generation, especially those mothers who are also carers.
Most of us know of such cases. A young mother may have to care for her children and one or both of her parents who could be suffering from some debilitating disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. At the same time, to keep the family’s cash flowing, these altruistic people also have to cope with a full-time job.
The Euro 2012 championship presented us with another graphic example of a caring Italian foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, who brought up Mario, the young son of poor Ghanaian immigrants.
Mario suffered from a chronic intestinal condition as a baby and was given up by his parents who could not support him. After spending two years in hospital in Brescia he was raised by his foster mother who also had to cope with the small family business.
Young people are leaving home much later than was the case up to some years ago. At the same time, elderly parents are living for much longer, even if the quality of their lives depends on the level of care that is available to them when they become less healthy.
In the absence of a coherent active aging strategy, and in particular a sufficiently extensive network of publicly assisted care for the elderly, the sandwich generation often has to step in out of a sense of duty to relatives who become dependent on private support.
No one really knows when a caring parent would need to leave his or her place of work at very short notice to attend to a medical emergency involving a disabled parent, or rush to school to help a child with special needs who may have been injured in a playground incident.
The last thing a person caught in this situation needs is a glum-faced manager who moans about the cost of being flexible to help a distressed mother address an emergency.
Such incidents drain the physical and emotional energy of those who spend years dealing with tough situations. It is acknowledged that employers indirectly share the consequences of the onerous arrangements that some of their employees have to make to cope with these difficult circumstances.
But when such employers invest in emotional capital and empathise with their employees, they will be doing themselves a great service. By supporting their employees in times of need, even if these times may appear to be too frequent, employers win the loyalty of staff caught up in difficult family care situations.
Some employers offer career time-off to employees who need to follow caring support group training. Other employers offer childcare facilities, enhanced maternity and paternity payments, or extended maternity leave.
They also run a framework of flexible working arrangements that include job-sharing, part-time work, flexible hours, compressed working weeks, home-working, family leave, short-term leave and employment breaks.
We need to raise public awareness about this problem. These people are enriching our society by the very personalised and special care they provide to their dependants – be they the young or the elderly.
Whoever supports the family is supporting society in the most effective and noble way. They deserve all the encouragement they can get. Rather than relying on legislation to improve the facilities available to the sandwich generation, employers should take initiatives that confirm their commitment to fulfil their social responsibilities fully.
This can be done by offering their employees working conditions that are family-friendly, especially for those who have to care for young or elderly vulnerable dependants.
If and when this is done successfully, we will not only have a fairer society, but also one that thrives economically because its interests are woven in the business ethos of our entrepreneurs.