They call them the ‘sandwich generation.’ Those who are caught between the demands of raising a young family on one side, and the care needs of aging parents on the other. Shifting social demographics have created a growing group of people who find themselves in this unique situation, struggling to keep it all together. Career women having babies later in life, combined with an aging population with an increased lifespan is heaping pressure on those caught in the middle, and some are almost at breaking point.
Caring for demanding young children who have lots of needs – physically, emotionally and- increasingly –financially is already a source of stress for many. When you add into that busy careers and aging parents who may be becoming ill, it can be a toxically stressful mix. For some Baby Boomers, there may even be grandchildren to throw into the mix!
This problem is more widespread than anyone could have anticipated – a study by the Pew Research Center, a Washington DC-based think-tank, found that 47% of adults in their 40s and 50s are in this very situation. So how does this growing group of people cope without drowning under pressure? While there is no single right answer to these highly personal, interlinked factors that make up the generational mix, there are some general areas that will support the daily challenges you face. Making sure money worries are minimised as much as possible, ensuring that adult children pull their weight, strengthening your relationship with your partner, and even somehow managing to make time for yourself are all crucial parts of the mix.
Understanding the financial pressure
It’s a modern paradox – we’re all working harder, only to pay to ‘outsource’ care for our loved ones. And the cost of that care can be crippling, especially as you understandably want the best possible standards. When it comes to financing our children’s care, we probably understand a lot more than when it comes to our parents. Having open conversations about financial planning is critical as parents age and require more support. Whatever the solution you opt for – be it a live-in aide or an assisted living facility – there will be costs that need to be planned in. Finding a professional independent financial advisor can be a life-saver – and it’s best to start early. They will be able to look at your parent’s financial situation, streamline or eliminate drains and make sure they are getting the best returns on their savings – all of which is vital for maximising the amount they can contribute to their later-years care. Find a Certified Financial Planner here – https://www.cfp.net. Being open about family finances starts from an early age – so be sure to encourage open conversations about money with your children from a young age.
Tough Love for Boomerang Children
Dovetailing with the ‘sandwich generation’ is the ‘boomerang generation’ – grown-up children in their 20s who may have been away to college, but due to the rising cost of living and extortionate rent, return to the family home. It can be all too easy to slip into old routines here. But you need to respect the fact that although they’ll always be your babies, they are now adults. Treat them as such – give them space, allow them to set their own schedules – but also insist that they contribute. After all, if they live completely cost-free, it reinforces a parent-child dynamic that can cause tensions when living together. Ask for a contribution – even if it’s below market rate to allow them to save up for their eventual independence – and everyone is happier. Don’t infantilize them – they must help to support the family as a whole. It’s not just the responsibility of parents to contribute. If you’ve been having more open financial conversations since they were small, this won’t be so awkward. Even a small amount of rent and bills will empower them and may make you less resentful. It also encourages them not to treat the family home like a hotel, but to respect it as a working household where all the adult members contribute financially and with helping around the house.
Find the best care
It starts off with helping out with the shopping; then it becomes daily visits to check all is okay – before you know the burden of care for aging parents can take over your life. Sometimes you have to realize when professional help is needed. And the only way you’ll be comfortable with that approach is knowing that you’ve got the very best help available. Whether it’s a live-in caregiver who can take care of daily tasks and provide companionship when you can’t be around, or looking at retirement facilities which provide different levels of care and a schedule of activities – the right fit will depend on the individual, their needs and wants.
Assisted living spans a range of options, so start by looking at what is available near to your family base – you don’t want to have to travel miles to visit. Friends and co-workers may have personal recommendations for facilities they have dealt with – and a word of mouth approach is always solid. There are online resources to help you find the right fit, too – like https://caregiverconnection.org/assisted-living/. Comparing online also allows you to look at costings to ensure your preferred option is even going to be affordable for your family.
Make sure that the staff at the facility are expertly trained and have the best interests of the residents at heart, and you’ll feel much more confident with your choices – and who knows, you may even be inspired to make a difference with care work yourself.
If your loved one is suffering from a particular disease, it’s also well worth contacting any support organizations in your area for that cause – like the Alzheimer’s Association, as they can provide details on specific care facilities or agencies trained in managing that condition.
Strengthen your own relationship
It sounds obvious, but you and your partner are now the foundations of a very complicated structure – with lots of others relying on you. In that bubble of pressure, the first thing to crack under strain can be your marriage. Although it seems hard, taking each other for granted can prove devastating in the long run – and if those caring responsibilities reduce due to changing circumstances, you will be left with each other – so you need also to ensure that your marriage or partnerships aren’t being eroded with the strain of all those caring responsibilities. Quality time together isn’t a frivolity – it’s an essential investment in your partnership. Making time for each other doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, after all. Try inviting your partner to a romantic picnic – on the living room floor! Or make sure there are shared rituals in the week together to reconnect – be that a movie night in your pajamas or even a shared hobby that you both choose to give time to, like bike riding. Most importantly, make sure that you have time to talk. When we’re busy to capacity and tired, it can be the first thing to go. Sit down without distractions and have a conversation. You are each other’s best resource for support and companionship, so make sure to prioritize that at least once in awhile.
Me Time Is Not Selfish – It’s An Essential
Sandwich generation-ers, and especially women, can often tend to feel that any time for themselves is an indulgence that has to go. But similarly with making couples time, try to allow yourself to look after number one occasionally, It’s true that you can’t care for anyone else if you’re not caring for yourself – sooner or later, things will come unstuck. But no matter how much you’re doing for your loved ones when you’re spread so thin, it never feels like enough. It’s okay to acknowledge that guilt, know that you are doing your best, and allow yourself to give time to yourself sometimes. You need to recharge your batteries, or you cannot support everyone else. Whether its an hour in a deep bubble bath, an afternoon at the gym or time with a latte and a good book – make sure you carve out a little space for yourself. There are some great ideas of relaxing without it costing a fortune here – https://www.thesimpledollar.com/eight-frugal-ways-to-unwind/
The challenges faced by the generation may be unique, but know that you are not alone in the daily struggle of trying to make it all work. The responsibility may be substantial, but keeping perspective (and a sense of humor!) is vital. Try to remember the good things about being surrounded by loved ones – when the alternative is being parentless or childless, that certainly makes you realize that, for all its struggles, a loving family is really a blessing in life. Understand that the pressures of this situation are not forever – children eventually move away and become more independent, parents won’t be around forever – and tough as it is caring for people, at least having them in our lives is a reminder of all the love we have.