4 Steps to Sanity for the Sandwich Generation

Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, defines the Sandwich Generation as people, usually in their 30s or 40s, who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. However, with lifespans increasing and parents having children later in life, I believe that the time demands of juggling the needs of aging parents and children falls mostly on those of us in our 50s.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. And, about one-in-seven middle-aged adults is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child. While some parents need financial support, others may also need help with the functions of day-to-day living and often rely on their children for emotional support. Emotional support also flows from parents to grown children, even those who are financially independent.

Both men and women may be part of the Sandwich Generation, but it’s women who generally lose more than men in earnings and benefits because they are more likely to leave the workforce or reduce their hours to care for family members. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 66 percent of caregivers are female, and the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who provides 20 hours of unpaid care to her mother. Not only do these obligations result in lost wages and income, but they often require immeasurable amounts of time and energy.

What can you do to make this stage of life easier? 

  1. Take care of yourself

This is a stressful, emotional, and often overwhelming period in life. You may feel guilty about not spending enough time with either your aging parents or your kids, especially when you’re working. But, it’s important to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Make sure you set aside time to do something that makes you happy and allows you to de-stress.

  1. Help your parents get organized

If they haven’t already done so, help your parents organize all of their financial and estate-planning documents. They should share them with each other, as well as with you and any other trusted individuals. Together, they should prepare a list of all assets, liabilities, income and expenses, all insurance policies, powers of attorney, and anything else that pertains to their financials.

Passwords to websites should be kept in a safe place. If they use a password keeper, make sure they have designated someone who can access the account in an emergency.  Confirm that their bills are getting paid and that both have access to a joint bank account. Our Her Wealth In Case of Emergency Checklist will help them and you get organized, so that everyone is prepared should they become incapacitated.

  1. Have a financial plan

Take some time to focus your own finances and create or update your financial plan. Uncertainty is often the cause of anxiety and stress, so knowing the specifics of your financial situation can be a relief. You’ll have a better idea of the financial costs to you of supporting your parents and your children and whether you can sustain this level of support without undermining your own financial health.  You may also benefit from your children being responsible with their money and having learned the basics of budgeting, saving and investing.

  1. Ask for help

Your financial advisor is a great resource to help you as you plan for your parents or support your children. Most financial advisors have worked with clients in situations like yours, so they know the questions to ask and can help you think through the financial implications and your options. They also are people who are called upon to help their own aging parents and children, so they know what you’re going through. They are here to help you, and to listen.

It’s okay to rely on others (family, friends or neighbors) for help with carpools, childcare or emotional support. For those of us in the Sandwich Generation, what they say is true—it does take a village!