Balancing caring for kids, aging parents
According to Pew Research, nearly half (47 percent) 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. The so-called “Sandwich Generation” is busy juggling the financial and physical needs of their parents and young kids or adult children.
I have written about some of the financial issues surrounding adult children moving back home, spending too much on college instead of saving for retirement, and senior fraud, all of which are important. But this column is devoted to the less obvious but equally grueling emotional price that those in the Sandwich Generation are paying. The following are tips that I have assembled from those who have found ways to manage the process without going crazy.
• Identify who is doing what. You may be lucky enough to have family members who are assisting you, but it is rare that tasks are split equally, even among couples themselves. Try not to fall into the trap of “keeping score” of who is doing what. That said, just because one has a more restrictive work schedule than another, it doesn’t mean everything has to fall on the shoulders of the more flexible one. Even if you are not contributing equally, something is better than nothing, so try to determine what each of you is willing to do.
• Get organized and create a schedule. Once you understand everyone’s availability and willingness to participate, establish priorities, get organized and create a monthly schedule with enough lead time to fill in gaps for conflicts that arise. For example, as most parents happily packed up the kids to deliver them to college, Sandwich parents had to figure out who would cover their own parents. Would it be a sibling, a neighbor or maybe a caretaker? And for those who have younger children, there seems to be an endless number of school-related events early in the academic year. It’s bad enough that many occur during work hours, but when you add in the myriad of needs for aging parents, your days can fill up quickly.
• Manage the process. The easiest way to keep track of the schedule is to create a master document, to which all interested parties have access. Google Docs is a great resource to help you manage the process. That said, once you have the schedule, something unexpected will inevitably pop up, which is why Amy Goyer, author of AARP’s “Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving,” notes that you need to be able to shift and “reprioritize as circumstances change.”
• Hire help. If your budget allows, hire caregivers who can help. For the kids, that might mean a few extra hours of babysitting while you stop in and see your folks. For your parents, there are some fantastic resources for senior care, ranging from aides who can assist with the basics to licensed professionals who provide skilled care. Consult the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, which can help you find resources in your area. Many rely on private agencies rather than word of mouth because, although the costs are higher, agencies usually conduct background checks on their employees and carry insurance if something goes wrong.
• Beware of burnout. Even if the kids are doing well in school and the folks are doing fine, you are spending an inordinate amount of emotional and mental energy keeping things together. Caregiving can deplete you, which is why you need to push aside any feelings of guilt and try to carve out time for exercise, sleep or even just a walk with a friend.