Most of us by now are familiar with the term Sandwich Generation. In fact, many of us are likely members! As far back as the early 1980s, the growing trend of adults caring for both aging parents and children was making headlines due to its emotional, sociological and financial implications.
And the trend continues. According to the Pew Research Center*, nearly half of 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 (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
Members of the Sandwich Generation feel pressure and challenges on multiple fronts — emotional, financial and professional. It’s hard to see parents age and become less able to take care of themselves. Raising children, although infinitely rewarding, has its challenges. Throw in a soft job market, where your newly-minted college graduate can’t find a job beyond assistant barista, and it’s a recipe for anxiety and stress that hang on like a low-grade fever.
The good news? There are resources and coping mechanisms that can help provide a safety net for those in the position of providing and caring for multiple generations of the family. In talking with clients, I categorize these tools in three buckets:
- Emotional and practical support
- Sound financial strategies
Communication: I can’t stress how important it is to communicate in multiple ways and on multiple levels. I’ve found that keeping a stiff upper lip or keeping things to yourself is not beneficial. In fact, it can breed resentment and feelings of isolation. Keep the communication open and flowing with all members of the family, kids, parents, siblings and anyone else involved in helping care for the family.
Your parents: It’s hard to talk with your parents about things they may not be able to do anymore, physically or financially, but it’s vital that you do so. Part of successfully navigating through the stress that accompanies caring for multiple generations is being able to talk. When talking with your parents, do so in a non-judgmental way and with respect. It’s too easy to slip into the role of “parenting your parents,” even before that may be necessary. Ensuring everyone understand time constraints, competing priorities, financial limitations and even physical limitations helps get everyone on the same page. For example, it’s hard to tell your parents out of the blue that you don’t think they should drive anymore. That conversation, while never easy, is much more palatable if you’ve been open with each other.
Your kids: Kids today face an increasingly complex world in terms of securing a job, striking out on their own and finding their way. It’s very beneficial to have an open conversation about finances and budgeting. All too often, we see parents who are embarrassed or ashamed that they may not be able to afford the things for their kids that others do. Those parents are doing their kids no favors. Our kids need to understand the value of money, the benefits of budgeting and ultimately the fulfillment of saving and buying things with money you earned. With the caveat of being age-appropriate, children need to also be aware of the non-financial challenges in the family and included in discussions, when appropriate.
Emotional and practical support: A myriad of resources fall within the category of support, but to me, the first and most important area of support comes from your family itself. Taking care of aging parents is the job of all siblings, not just the one who may have the most money or the one who may live the closest. If you feel you are carrying most of the burden, perhaps it’s time for a family meeting to determine how responsibilities and duties can be equitably divvied up so no one feels overwhelmed. Friends and siblings of your parents are another resource. And organizations like the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), the American Association of Retired People (AARP) and others offer a wealth of practical tips and resources ranging from emotional to financial for those caring for parents and children.
Sound financial strategies: Financial advisors, banks, investment firms and other such entities are generally well-prepared to meet the needs of multi-generational families. Their services range from offering debit cards especially for teens — enabling them to establish and develop good spending habits — to services for seniors on fixed incomes. A good place to start is with your own bank. Explore online, or talk with your bank branch manager. Chances are they can help steer you in a good direction
Bottom line, if you’re feeling pressured and squeezed from both up and down, you’re not alone. And, there’s help.
Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)