In years past, people taking care of both their children and their parents, often referred to as the sandwich generation, were typically in their 20s and 30s. As our life expectancies have increased, people in this stage of life are now faced with helping their children launch into adulthood, preparing for their own retirement and assisting their parents for an extended period of time. If you find yourself “sandwiched” we have a number of insights we want to share with you. Our goal is to help you not just survive, but truly enjoy these moments of transition.
Given that stress tends to rise during this time period, we want to begin this leg of your journey focused on how you can take care of yourself. The wealth of support groups for those who serve as caregivers for older relatives serves as a testament to how difficult this time can be for those who are supporting and caring for their parents. As you think about your own role as caregiver, whether it is for your parents or children, here are three tips that can serve as guiding principles to help lower your stress level and assist in your emotional and financial health.
Manage Your Expectations
Whether you’re helping your parents make decisions about how to continue their legacy or helping your teenage son create a budget for his first year of college, you’ll want to have more than one conversation. Talking about finances can be hard enough if you’re talking with your children who view the conversation as generally unimportant. Your parents on the other hand are likely to view a conversation about their money as an invasion of privacy. You can probably imagine how your parents feel by picturing your teenager asking probing questions of your financial life. Misunderstandings and difficulty expressing yourself are common and normal, but don’t give up. Progress may come very slowly at first, and it might only come through a good amount of coaxing on your part.
That’s why it’s so important to manage your expectations. View each financial conversation as a stepping stone on the journey for both your parents and children. You might not reach the end goal in one conversation, but when you get back on that path you may find it gets easier and you are making progress.
Start early. Start small and be persistent.
It’s Okay to Ask for and Accept Help from Others
A helping hand can be the difference between struggling under a large burden alone and successfully managing competing demands on your time and attention. Your family and friends can be the helping hands you need. If you have siblings, start conversations with them about how you can all be on the same page. If you have many children, begin short family meetings to go over the basics of what is expected of them and what you will provide. Allowing everyone to express their emotions, ask questions, and consider all the options available can be very important in creating an atmosphere that facilitates everyone collaborating in a thoughtful way.
Of course, every family dynamic is different. Just imagining bringing other family members into these conversations may be stressful for you, either because your relationship already has some tension or your other family members already have strong opinions about what needs to be done and aren’t open to considering other options.
If that’s the case for you, consider bringing in a third-party – an expert guide that can provide a more objective voice to some potentially tense discussions. Even if you decide to include your family in these discussions and decisions, an expert, outside opinion can bring perspective you might not be able to because you’re too close to the situation.
Regardless of whether you enlist the help of family, friends, or an expert guide, you don’t have to bear the responsibility alone.
Don’t Sacrifice Your Own Well Being
One of the most prevalent risks of being part of the sandwich generation is that you can get so caught up in the needs and demands of your parents and children that you forget to take care of yourself. It’s good to look after those who need you most, but you don’t want to let caring for your parents and children negatively impact your ability to make good financial decisions about your own future.
You could inadvertently end up putting your own children in an even more difficult position when they enter the sandwich generation if you neglect your own financial plans and goals.
Keep close, regular contact with your personal financial guide. They can help keep you on track so you don’t neglect your own retirement as you go about helping your children prepare for their future and your parents manage their life in retirement.
Keeping these tips in mind may help minimize your frustration and stress level when you are sandwiched between helping others while still tending to your own personal health and well-being.
NOTE: This series will be split into two halves. The first half will focus on caring for your parents as that is often the most pressing concern for many in the sandwich generation. After that, we’ll focus on how you can best set your children up for success as they enter the world of adulthood.
Next time, we’ll talk about how you can help your aging parents get organized.