The Sandwich Generation – Juggling Family Responsibilities

August 14, 2013

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 while at the same time looking after the needs of your aging parents. Squeezed in the middle, you've joined the ranks of the "sandwich generation."

What challenges will you face?

Your parents faced some of the same challenges that you may be facing now: adjusting to a new life as empty nesters and getting reacquainted with each other as a couple. However, life has grown even more complicated in recent years. Here are some of the things you can expect to face as a member of the sandwich generation today:

  • Your parents may need assistance as they become older

  • If your family is small and widely dispersed, you may end up as a the primary caregiver for your parents

  • If you've delayed having children so that you could focus on your career first, your childen may be starting college at the same time as your parents become dependent on you

  • You may be facing the challenges of "boomerang children" who have returned home after a divorce or job loss

  • Like many individuals, you may be incurring debt at an unprecedented rate, facing pension shortfalls and wondering about the future of Social Security

What can you do to prepare for the future?

If you take some time now to determine your goals and work on a flexible plan, you will sve much stress and expense in years to come. Here are some ways you can prepare now for the issues you face:

  • Start saving for the soaring costs of college

  • Work hard to control your debt

  • Review your financial goals regularly and make any changes that are necessary

  • Invest in your own future by putting as much as you can into a retirement plan

  • Encourage realistic expectations among your children

  • Talk to your parents about the provisions they've made for the future

Caring for your parents

Much depends on whether a parent is living with you or out of town. If your parents live a distance away, you have the responsibility of monitoring his or her welfare from afar. Daily phone calls can be time consuming and having to rely on your parent's support network may be frustrating. Travel to your parent's home may be expensive and you may worry about being away from your family. To reduce stress, try to involve your siblings in looking after Mom and Dad too. If your parent's needs are great enough, you may also want to consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager who can help oversee your parent's care and direct you to the resources your parent needs.

If your parent moves in with you, keep in mind the following points:

  • Share all your expectations in advance

  • Bear in mind that your parent needs a separate room and phone for space and privacy

  • Contact local, civic and religious organziations to find programs that will involve your parent in the community

  • Try to work with other family members and get them to help out

  • Be sympathetic and supportive of your children.

Consider the needs of your children

Your children may be feeling the effects of your situation more than you think, especially if they are teenagers. At a time when they are most in need of your patience and attention, you may be preoccupied with your parents and how to look after them. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Explain fully what changes may come about as you begin caring for your parent

  • Discuss college plans with them

  • Avoid dipping into your retirement savings to pay for college

  • Don't be afraid to discuss a target date for their departure

  • Don't neglect your own family when taking care of a parent

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Get enough rest and relaxation every evening, and stay involved with your friends and interests. Finally, keep lines of communication open with your spouse, parents, children and siblings.

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