Anyone experiencing the struggle of simultaneously caring for children and aging parents is part of the sandwich generation. Although “generation” is part of the phrase, it doesn’t refer to people born at a specific time. Typically, these family caregivers will be in the 30- to 40-year-old age range, providing for their families and balancing care duties between the needs of children and parents.
Trends That Led to an Increasing Sandwich Generation
The rise in the numbers in the sandwich generation is a byproduct of two influential trends: Women are giving birth later in life, and the senior population is increasing. A third contributing factor was the COVID-19 pandemic and the fear of placing aging parents into long-term care facilities where viruses spread easily in communities of people with declining health. Many families pivoted to caring for their loved ones at home.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. You are most likely experiencing significant anxiety and stress as you juggle school and activities for your children, expectations at work, changing family dynamics, and daily caregiver duties. Though this is a challenging time in your life, it doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems. There are steps to take to minimize frustration.
6 Ways for Caregivers of the Sandwich Generation to Plan
- Start by reprioritizing daily routines. If there seems to be an overwhelming number of tasks to accomplish in a day, prioritize between urgent and non-urgent categories to determine what needs to be addressed first.
- Make time for self-care to avoid caregiver burnout. Focusing on basics like nutritious meals, adequate sleep, and exercise will serve you and your loved ones well.
- Know your rights at your workplace. Programs like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offer job security to those taking a leave of absence for family medical reasons. While it’s not a paid benefit, you will maintain access to your health insurance benefits for up to 12 weeks off. If you haven't already, explore working remotely to put you in the same physical location as those you care for in your home.
- Share your feelings about the challenges you are facing and get extra help when you need it. Talking things through with family members can better manage everyone’s expectations. There are also forums and community resources that can put you in touch with others in the sandwich generation, where you can share information and offload burdens.
- Make an honest evaluation of your available financial resources before determining a new course of action.
- Are your parents able to pay for their care on their own, even within your own home?
- Do they carry long-term care insurance or whole life insurance policies with living benefits?
- Are other family members willing to contribute financially, or is a public assistance option viable?
- Talk things through with your parents about their preferences and abilities to pay for health care services. Discuss ideas with siblings and figure out who can help provide care and whose home provides the best solution. If external help is a must, research local possibilities and costs.
Preparing Estate Planning Documents
It’s an excellent idea to consult your attorney about legal documents if a sudden financial or medical decision presents itself. You need to have the legal power to make important decisions for your aging parents and minor children.
Your parents may need more help as their health declines or they experience dementia. You may need to renovate your home as your parents age for their comfort and safety, or eventually look for professional services and facilities. Also, review your retirement savings and other investments that can protect your children’s lifestyle and future.
- College funds need to be a priority, as is a 401(k) plan if your place of employment offers one.
- Consider the purchase of a term or whole life insurance policy to protect your family’s future in the event a tragedy affects your ability to care for your family.
- Start an emergency fund to help cover incidental costs, unexpected medical bills, and a potential long-term hospital stay. Unexpected costs can throw off your budget.
If your sandwich generation status continues for an extended time, re-evaluate your finances periodically. Goals will change, and updating your estate plan (and your parents’ estate plan, too) may help you stay on track to meet your family’s long-term goals.
Money management and estate planning are critical elements to creating a mutually beneficial living experience as part of the sandwich generation. While this may not be the easiest time of your life with the extra demands placed on you, it’s possible to manage and even thrive with adequate planning.
Speak with your attorney to structure these types of plans. They educate families about issues faced by seniors who may be experiencing declining health, evaluate health care facilities and services, and provide family resources for caregiver support.