If you’re a member of the “sandwich generation” - adults who are caring for both their own young children and their elderly parents - then you’re no doubt familiar with the challenges and conflicts that arise on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis.
You’ve somehow got to make it to your son’s school play and mom’s doctor appointment at the same time. Your high school-aged daughter needs to borrow the car to go out with friends, but dad also needs a ride to his book club. You have to pick up prescriptions, haggle with mom’s insurance company, and drop the kids off at soccer practice right after work - oh, and somehow feed everybody dinner, too.
If caring for children can be emotionally overwhelming, caring for children and your aging parents at the same time can, at times, feel impossible. How do you balance the needs of your children with those of your parents - and, of course, your own? How can you give your children the opportunities you’ve always wanted to, while also financially supporting your parents?
These are difficult questions for anyone to answer, and every family is different. However, there are a few guidelines you can follow that will help you make sense of your confusing new role.
- Remember to care for yourself.
As parents, we’re often told to take time for ourselves in order to keep our relationship and family happy and healthy. It’s hard to do, and some of us aren’t good about doing it - but you’d be hard-pressed to find a mother or father who didn’t think it was necessary.
For some reason, when we become caregivers for our parents it becomes more difficult to believe that we still need that personal time. But when nearly all our waking hours are spent handling other people’s issues, it’s imperative to take time for the things we as individuals enjoy. That way, you can come back recharged, refreshed, and ready to give your all to those who need you most.
- Talk about finances honestly and openly.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: if you’re caring for aging parents, you have to be able to talk honestly about finances. If your parent is moving in with you and your family, will he or she be able to contribute toward monthly expenses? If your parent is living in an assisted living or long-term care facility, how much will they expect you and your siblings to contribute?
At the same time, you should feel able to discuss your financial obligations to your own family. Are you saving for your children’s college? Are there camps, special trips, or academic opportunities that you need to be able to fund for your kids? The last thing your parents will want is to take away your ability to pay for these things.
Having these conversations will help you prevent the misunderstandings that breed resentment, anger, and other negative feelings. As uncomfortable as it may be to ask your parents what they have saved, it’s a whole lot worse to experience a crisis and discover that mom and dad have little to no funds set aside for long-term care.
Something families may want to discuss with their financial advisor is the life settlement option. Maybe long-term care is getting too expensive. Maybe a retirement fund isn’t as healthy as it should be. In these situations, life settlements can help seniors by providing a lump sum of cash that can be used for any needs.
- Hold family meetings to give children a chance to voice their feelings.
Children who suddenly find themselves sharing their home, private space, food, and especially mom and dad’s attention with a grandparent may feel all kinds of confusing emotions. They need to be able to talk honestly about how they’re feeling with their parents if they’re going to be able to deal with the changes well.
To that end, consider holding regular family meetings during which children are able to voice whatever questions, concerns, or other issues they have about the new arrangement. At least some of these should be just mom, dad, and the kids so that everyone can say what they need to without hurting grandma or grandpa’s feelings.
It may be beneficial to have grandma and grandpa participate as well from time to time. This way, children can ask them questions directly, and learn that their grandparents likely are experiencing some of the same confusing feelings themselves.
Caring for aging parents is always a difficult, but often rewarding experience. Read more about this topic in our post “How to Help Your Aging Loved One Stay at Home.”