If you’re between thirty-five and fifty-five years old, you are part of the Sandwich Generation. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s a relatively new phenomenon. These are the modern-day adults who are being squeezed from both sides: Dealing with children and aging parents.
In previous generations, kids tended to grow up more quickly and leave the nest more permanently. In the past, people didn’t live as long. When Social Security began in the 1930’s the average life expectancy was about 67 years. Today, many people are living 25-, 30-, 35-years into retirement.
All of this is good—but it can make for difficult circumstances for the Sandwich Generation. As I speak around the country presenting the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar, I’m seeing more and more middle aged adults, who should be busy saving for their own retirements, who are still supporting grown kids (or, at least paying college bills); and simultaneously trying to care for their parents.
If you identify with this, let me share a few thought sparklers that you may find helpful in managing your time, money, and the demands being placed on you.
1. Don’t let the inmates run the asylum! It is almost always a mistake to become a crutch to our children. But I see good parents doing it all the time. As a matter of fact, Bon and I have had to fight this temptation. Sooner or later, kids should grow up and leave.
I recently counseled with an elderly lady who was struggling with huge financial problems. As we sat talking in her living room, the basement door opened and out stepped a forty-something year old man. “Who is that?” I wondered.
“He’s my son. He lives downstairs,” she told me. Then the mother went on with a diatribe of excuses for why this healthy grown man still lived at home depleting her minimal assets—and contributing nothing. I was fuming!
Admittedly, that was an extreme case, but it behooves all parents to set boundaries and draw lines. There are always a million excuses for doing the wrong thing. But it’s important to remember that softness and love are not always the same thing. Assuming normal health and intelligence, the most loving thing a parent can do is raise Godly, responsible, self-reliant kids who become contributors; rather than societal mooches.
2. Regarding our parents, it is vital to open the lines of communication early. While discussing personal money issues it is still taboo with some people from the Great Generation—it is vital that we do it.
In my experience, the healthiest financial situations are usually in homes where the Sandwich Generation sits down early with the Greatest Generation and asks the hard questions—all with an attitude of love and deference.
This may take some time. There may be some old wounds that have to heal first. Some apologies may be in place. Showing appropriate respect is key here. Do whatever is appropriate to open lines of communication.
Then, discuss the toughies:
How much do you have saved? Who is it with? (I can’t over emphasis the importance of this one. Elderly people tend to be far too trusting. It might be wise for you to personally go with your parents and meet their advisor. Ask the hard questions—do a true due diligence in their behalf. If the advisor becomes offended or defensive—consider that to be a red flag.)
What insurance coverage do you have? If they have life insurance, learn all about it. If they don’t have good long-term care coverage—consider it. Be sure their homeowners and Medicare supplemental coverages are paid and proper for their needs. Look for insurance that they may be paying for needlessly. For instance, if they no longer are driving—why keep paying for car insurance?
3. Don’t fall into the trap of depleting your own retirement fund to care for your parents. Obviously, this has to be considered on a case to case basis, but in general, it can make more problems than it solves. It may seem wise on the surface, but ultimately may only shift the cost of your retirement to your children—at which time, if things continue going the way they are now, will cost even more.
4. Agree with your parents that they will talk with you before making any major purchases. Again, elderly citizens are favorite targets for unethical home repair people, financial products salesmen, and the like.
5. Select a designated caregiver. Ideally this is one of the kids. But be cautious and thoughtful as to how you do this. Select the person with the greatest heart of mercy. Check your ego at the screen door, and accept that your parents may prefer one sibling over another for this task. Hopefully, this is the child who lives closest to the parents.
Also, if you assign one sibling the task of running point—remember that doesn’t relieve the other siblings of their responsibilities. It only means that responsibilities may sift somewhat. For instance, the care giver may be relieved of rendering any financial help—that will be the responsibility of the other kids. Possibly the other siblings will agree to send the caregiver on a paid, annual vacation. The non-caregivers can mow the caregiver’s yard, clean her home, run some of his errands. And, by all means, understand that fatigue is a real issue here. The caregiver deserves regular days (or, weeks) off when the other siblings fill his/her spot.
6. Lastly, prepare emotionally and financially for the two last moves. In many cases there will come a time when Mom or Dad need more care than you can give them in their own home. Decide early what your family preferences are. Will one of the kids bring them into their home? Will you look to a long-term care provider?
And about that final move, this one will be tough. And, frankly, this is more for the children’s benefit than the parents’. Sit and visit with your parents. If their health and emotions allow, ask how they would like their funerals to be treated. Do they have favorite songs? Is there someone special who they would like to preside? What would they most like?