November is National Caregiver Appreciation Month, so we are going to be discussing the Sandwich Generation and how you can prepare for it financially, mentally, and emotionally.
Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation? I am. And no, it doesn’t refer to a cohort of people who grew up eating sandwiches for lunch. It’s not nearly as fun as that.
The Sandwich Generation are those adults, typically in their 30’s to 50’s, who are responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents at the same time. We’re sandwiched between two groups of people that depend on us. Do you feel the squeeze?
If you don’t yet, you probably will at some point. I’m sure plenty of people in your congregation are. With people living longer than ever before and also waiting longer to have kids and get them out of the house, more and more people are finding themselves in the sandwich generation.
A 2013 report found that 47% of adults in their 40’s and 50’s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. I think they should have counted people in their 30’s as well because I know a lot of us sure fit that description. About 15%, or one-in-seven, of those middle-aged adults are supporting both a parent and child financially.
Even if you aren’t providing financial support, being a part of the Sandwich Generation can be draining on your time, energy, and emotions. What can you do? Do you have to just grin and bear it and hope you survive?
Being a part of the Sandwich Generation doesn’t have to be miserable. There are a number of things that you can do to prepare so that this season of life is less stressful for everyone involved. Maybe you’ll even be able to enjoy it. I know I am.
Get Your Own Life In Order
You know what happens to the blind leading the blind, right? Yep, they fall into a pit. Just like on airplanes they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before attempting to help anyone else, you need to make sure your own life is in order before you’ll be of any use to your loved ones.
How do you get your life into a position where you can help? First, build a solid financial foundation for yourself. You don’t have to be rich, you just need to be spending less than you make, have an emergency fund in place, and be saving or your own retirement.
If you think it’s ok to cheat your future retirement to help out your kids now, you’re in for trouble. You’re just trading a small problem now for a bigger one in the future. When you’re broke in retirement, who are you going to turn to? Your kids. Right in the season of life when they should be investing in their own families and future. Do you really want to put them in that position?
Getting your life in order isn’t just financial. It is emotional, relational, spiritual, etc. If your marriage is on the rocks now, what do you think would happen if your sick mother-in-law has to move in with you? If you’re harboring bitterness or resentment toward your father, how do you think that will affect your attitude and ability to cope if you have to care for him later on? Make sure your own life is in order (or on the way there) so that you have a solid place from which to offer your family help.
Understand Your Options
A lot of people screw up their lives financially (and otherwise) simply because they don’t know any better. They don’t know the options available to them and don’t even realize that they have choices. You do have choices.
If you’re going to make it through this season without going broke, you need to look hard and find all of the options available to you. Luckily, you have the internet, where information on most all of your options are hiding, and Mr. Google, eager to ferret them out.
Set Clear Expectations And Boundaries
Don’t you always counsel engaged couples that the root of most of their problems will be unmet expectations? Well, that doesn’t only apply to marriage. I think that’s the biggest source of problems in most interpersonal relationships.
Especially in this trying season of life, you need to set clear expectations and boundaries. Everyone needs to be on the same page from the beginning. Otherwise, you’ll end up with financial and relational problems later on. And that’s never fun.
Make A Plan (Or Two Or Three)
Once you know what you have to work with and everyone is on the same page, you can come up with a game plan. And since you know that nothing ever turns out just how you expect, come up with a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D as well.
When I first wrote this post, I gave specifics for each of the above steps. However, that pushed the post over 2,000 words. Since this is supposed to be a useful blog and not a cure for insomnia, I’ve broken it into three posts. Come back in the next two weeks for the specifics on how to actually implement these suggestions with both your kids and your parents.