Sandwich Generation – Stop, Seek Help and Plan

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If you are in your 40’s or 50’s, “sandwiched” between providing care and finances for your children and caring for your aging parents then you are a member of the Sandwich Generation.

Sandwiches are being added to the platter at a rapid pace. The term “sandwich generation” was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2006. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, statistics indicate that the number of Americans aged 65 or older will double to more than 70 million by the year 2030, creating a larger pool of aging parents while Americans are living longer and starting their families later.

Last week I spoke with a family where mom, M, a widow in her mid-eighties, has lived alone in her Queens apartment for the last 25 years. Recently M’s ability to manage and return to her home has been called into question. Her children were tired and worried it was too late to make a plan. They were referred to me for a consultation by a former client. The son, S, is in his mid- 50’s is recently unemployed and living on the East End. The daughter, D, is in her late 40’s lives a few blocks from M in Queens. The adult children D and S began pitching in several years ago where M needed help.

D in her late 40’s supports a home for her 25 year old-daughter, son-in law, two grandchildren and her own high-school aged child. D has been visiting M daily, managing her mother’s shopping, laundry and medical appointments for the past 5 years while holding a full-time job.

S is struggling to continue to fund his post-unemployed lifestyle; large home, child in college, lessons and events for child in high school while helping his mother from mowing her grass to paying for property taxes and unexpected home repair costs. He has often taken on the responsibility of meeting the shortfall from her monthly social security payments.

M suffered a fall recently and was hospitalized. Following M’s discharge from the hospital she ended up in a $ 360.00 a day rehabilitation facility. Her Medicare eligible days quickly wound down. D and S came face to face with the reality that they could no longer continue going along week to week in their own sandwich positions hoping things would simply “sort themselves out”. They had no plan.

I met with D, S and M in the rehabilitation facility initially and later in M’s home. We were able to execute needed advanced directives for M as well as D and S and put a plan for M’s homecare in place. There are other legal matters they may wish to consider in the future but now they have a working plan.

D and S were stretching themselves thin with responsibilities that had built up for M and their responsibilities in their own homes. They were faced with tough decisions about the future of M’s care and their own well-being. S needed to return tohis job search and East End child care duties. D wistfully lamented that she thought she would soon be able to stop taking “vacation days” to stay home and care for her children. Since her mother’s health began failing D stated has been taking more time off to care for her mother than she had ever taken off for her children… .and with no relief in sight.

They are the sandwich generation; according to a Hartford Survey, 68% of baby boomers have missed work in the last 6 months or left early due to care-giving duties for a child or elderly parent. More than three quarters of boomers have taken 16 hours of paid vacation time to care for a child or parent. The MetLife Mature Market Institute reported that, the average worker who takes time off to provide care for an aging parent sacrifices more than $300,000 in lost wages and benefits over a lifetime.

Between car pools and car insurance payments for your children and paying bills and rushing to medical appointments for your parents, are you scheduling time out for yourself and your own needs? Are you using your resources wisely or just getting by each week?

Stop and take a bite out of your sandwich:

  1. Set time aside for your own needs—your interests, your marriage, your own career needs and retirement planning.
  2. Sit down with your kids and create reasonable expectations of time and financial contributions for you and them.
  3. Prepare for the possibility of your parents incapacity.
  4. Consider creative intergenerational living/care-giving arrangements/ instill responsibility in your children while developing a plan now.
  5. Seek professional help, some professional helping resources you may try include: – National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers – National Association of Social Workers – National Adult Day Services Association

Elder Law Attorney – Find and work with a reputable elder law attorney for legal needs such as: Estate planning, advanced directives, and have a discussion of anticipated present and future health care matters including long term care insurance and eligibility for government benefits. Elder Law Attorneys are generally knowledgeable about other aging issues as well and can often provide referrals to other professionals and service organizations.

You do not have to face your sandwiched situation alone – stop, act and plan today.

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