December 27, 2022
reading time 7 minutes 15 seconds
At a time when your career is reaching a peak and you are looking ahead to your own retirement, you may find yourself in the position of having to help your children with college expenses or the financial challenges of young adulthood while simultaneously looking after the needs of your aging parents. Squeezed between the two, like two pieces of bread, you’re considered part of the “sandwich generation” – a group loosely defined as people in their 40s to 60s who are “sandwiched” between caring for children and aging parents.
Data shows that women are the ones who most often step into the caregiving role. As more women have children later in life and more parents live longer lives, the ranks of the sandwich generation are likely to grow in the years ahead. So, let’s start by saying, if you are feeling the pain of being pulled in many directions, you aren’t alone.
● Define Your Priorities
● A Guide to Caring for Your Parents
● A Guide to Meeting the Needs of Your Children
● Don’t Forget Self-Care
The day-to-day demands of caring for both an aging parent and children can put a tremendous strain — both emotional and financial — on the primary caregiver. This is especially true when adult siblings or family members don’t agree on the best course of action for elder care, don’t share the workload, or don’t contribute enough financially to the cost of that care.
The first thing to do is get yourself in the proper mindset. This phase could last just one or two years, or it could last many more. In any case, try to treat this stage as a marathon and pace yourself; you don’t want to start sprinting right out of the gate and burn out too soon.
Encourage open communication with your family to figure out ways to share the financial, emotional, and time burdens. Hold regular meetings to discuss issues, set priorities, and delegate tasks. Women are often conditioned to believe they have to “do it all,” but there is no reason why adult siblings and relatives can’t share the workload.
It’s crucial for caregivers to get their own financial house in order. Ironically, oftentimes the demands of caregiving may cause you to lose income because you need to step back from work through reduced hours, unpaid time off, or turning down a promotion. Here are some tips to get your finances on track:
Budget: Establish a budget and stick to it. Having a realistic budget can help you balance your income and expenses to keep your finances on track.
Invest in Your Future: Invest in your own future by putting as much as you can into your retirement plan and avoid raiding it to pay for your parent’s expenses or your child’s college education.
Lean In: Don’t quit your job before exploring other arrangements. If you need more time at home than vacation or personal days allow, ask your employer. In today’s job market and with the advent of new ways to think about work-life balance, many employers are accommodating requests and reinventing the way work gets done. Consider telecommuting, flex hours, temporarily reduced hours, or taking unpaid leave.
Another option is to enroll your parent in an adult daycare program or hire a home health aide to fill in the gaps. Some employers offer elder-care resource locators or other caregiving support as an employee benefit, so make sure to check.
Permanently leaving your job should be the last resort as time out of the workforce will reduce not only your earnings but possibly your Social Security retirement benefit as well.
Talk to your parents about their financial resources. Do they have retirement income? Long-term care insurance? Do they own their home? Can they sell the property to support their financial needs? Learn the whereabouts of all their documents and accounts, as well as the financial professionals and friends they rely on for advice and support.
Much depends on whether your parent is living with you or out of town. If your parent lives a distance away, you’ll have to monitor his or her welfare from afar, which can be a challenging task. Though caregiving can be a major stress on anyone, distance can magnify it — daily phone calls or video chats might not be enough, and traveling to your parent’s home can be expensive and difficult to manage with your work and family responsibilities.
If your parent’s needs are great enough and your parent isn’t ready to enter an assisted living facility, you may want to consider hiring a geriatric care manager who can help oversee your parent’s care and direct you to the right community resources, and/or a home health aide who can check in on your parent during the week.
Here are some things you should do: 1.) Take inventory of your parent’s assets and consolidate their financial accounts. 2.) Get a current list of the medicines your parent takes and the doctors he or she sees. 3.) Have your parent establish a durable financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney, which gives you legal authority to handle financial and health-care decisions should you need to. And make sure your parent has a will. 4.) Consider consulting a tax professional to see if you might qualify for potential tax benefits because of your caregiving; for example, you might be able to claim your parent as a dependent. 5.) If your parent’s needs are great enough, you might need to go a step further and explore assisted living or nursing homes.
Eventually, you and your parent might decide that they can no longer live alone. At this point, you and your family have several options including your parent moving in with you, your parent moving into an assisted living facility, or your parent moving into a nursing home. There are many considerations before making this decision and the most important is to keep the lines of communication open between you, your siblings, and your parents. Asking the difficult but important questions prior to any decision will set expectations, alleviate concerns, and ensure the best possible choice is made for the entire family.
Your children may be feeling the effect of the situation more than you think, especially if they are teenagers. At a time when they still need your patience and attention, you may be preoccupied with your parent’s care, meeting work deadlines, and juggling financial obligations. Following are some things to keep in mind as you try to balance your family’s needs.
Explain what changes may come about as you begin caring for your parent. Talk honestly about the pros and cons of having a grandparent in the house and be sympathetic and supportive of your children (and your spouse) as they too try to adjust.
Discuss college plans. Encourage realistic expectations about the college they may be able to attend. Help your child analyze the costs and benefits of expensive versus more affordable schools. Help them to see the payoffs post-college and the potential debt accumulation they might incur. These conversations might help your child see the benefits of considering schools outside of their top choices and the benefits of working during school to reduce costs.
Teach your kids how to spend wisely and set financial goals and priorities.
If you have “boomerang children” who have returned home, make sure to share your expectations with them too. Expect help with chores (above and beyond their own laundry and meal prep), occasional simple caregiving, and a financial contribution toward monthly household expenses.
This stage of your life could last many years, or just a few. Try to pace yourself so you can make it for the long haul. As much as you can, try to get adequate sleep, eat nutritious meals, and exercise – all things that will increase your ability to cope. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself when you need it, whether it’s a couple of hours holed up with a book or a weekend getaway. When you put your own needs first occasionally and look after yourself, you’ll be in a better position to care for those around you.
If you find yourself sandwiched between the needs of your children and an aging parent, know that you are not alone. Any transition in life is difficult to adjust to and this one is especially difficult because it is both time-consuming and emotionally draining. With some preparation, open communication, and prioritization, it is possible to navigate this transition effectively and with success.