Balancing Act For “Sandwich Generation”

Raising a family while pursuing a career is tough enough. Add tending to aging parents and you’ve officially joined the “sandwich generation,” a mushrooming group squeezed by simultaneous responsibilities for elder and younger generations.

If you aren’t there yet, you may be soon.

As many as 13 percent of U.S. households with two or more people age 30 to 60 have two earners juggling responsibility for children, an aging parent, and a career, according to research by professors Margaret Neal and Leslie Hammer at Portland State University in Oregon. With life expectancies rising, that percentage is likely to swell. But, you can take steps to ease the strain on your time, money and other resources.

Communicate. The best time to talk with aging parents about long-term care insurance and medical care decisions is before not during a crisis. Understanding their needs, wishes and financial situation can help the family work together toward a desirable future.

Share the load. Holding a family meeting can help you assign responsibilities for everything from shuttling kids to after-school activities and parents to cardiologist appointments, to ponying up for eldercare so no one person shoulders the burden.

Parents may want to meet with each child separately to promote free discussion and then hold the family meeting. Consider how family members at a distance can pitch in with elderly parents, whether by paying for in-home help or simply making extended visits.

Be fiscally conscientious. Funding college savings plans and paying for nursing home care while still saving for retirement is a formidable challenge. Getting an early start on saving and investing helps, of course, and considering ways to protect your parents’ assets is crucial. A comprehensive financial and estate plan can keep you and your aging parents on track.

Tap outside resources. local, state and federal governments all offer elder- and childcare services and information, as do some religious and civic organizations. Many employers also provide assistance, ranging from flextime to family care programs that pay for in-home help. Seek out resources available in your area or workplace and take advantage of them.

Gather essential information. Work with your parents to prepare a personal data record listing essential financial, legal and medical information. Having a health-care directive, for example, is of little use if no one knows where it is and what it says. A personal data record should include information about bank accounts, investment holdings, insurance policy numbers and company names, wills, durable powers of attorney, medical care documents, and professional financial advisers. And ensure family decision makers and your advisers know where to find the documents.

Share all your expectations.  Remember that your parents can and probably want to have responsibilities in your household. Let them be involved, productive members of the family.

Take care of yourself. Finally, you’ll be in no shape to care for children and elderly parents if you don’t make your own well-being a priority, too. With so much to be done, caregivers often hesitate to take time for themselves.

Relentlessly pushing yourself out of a sense of obligation to others will inevitably sap your energy and your ability to do what needs to be done. So nurture yourself as well as your family members. Don’t neglect your marriage.  Make time for one another, and have fun. Live your life. You’ll be better equipped to meet all those other emotional, financial, and logistical challenges.

Start talking now about the possibility of someday joining the sandwich generation. How would you handle it?



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