Generation X seems to have gotten lost, sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials. But after years of obscurity, we may finally be getting noticed. Ironically, we're getting recognized for being sandwiched once again, this time between caring for our kids and our aging parents.
This sandwich has three crucial ingredients:
· Your family’s emotional well-being.
· The financial consequences of managing care.
· The health of your parents.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
This means taking time for yourself. Set aside time to recharge your batteries. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything. This will help prevent burnout.
You also need to stay physically healthy. You don’t need to train for a marathon, but try to find a balance among the right amounts of sleep, exercise, work, parenting and elder care so you can be at your best.
GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Set aside your ego and get some help if you need it. This might include a nurse, a social worker or psychologist, a gerontologist, a financial planner, a baby-sitter or a tutor. There are many local and national organizations that can help you find qualified assistance.
INVOLVE THE WHOLE FAMILY
Acknowledge that this new situation may be difficult for your parents and try to give them some independence, privacy and control. They are more likely to participate in a positive manner if they contribute to the decisions and outcomes. It really comes down to walking a mile in their shoes. You children may be living with grandma and grandpa, too, so they should be involved in the conversation. Depending on the situation, aging parents can contribute, too. If their minds are still strong, they could tutor the kids. If they are still physically sound, they could do basic household chores. Take advantage of what you do have, rather than dwelling on what you don’t.
ASSESS YOUR FINANCIAL RESOURCES
You can’t plan if you don’t know all of your assets, liabilities and cash flow involved in this equation, and you can’t manage effectively unless you know where everything is. Be frank, honest and open with your parents and family members. Let everyone involved know what the costs and available assets are. If possible, use separate accounts for funding and keeping track of your parents’ care.
MAKE A PLAN TO COVER THE COSTS
Even under normal circumstances, juggling daily expenses while saving for your kids' college and your own retirement is difficult. Throw in the expenses of an aging parent and you really have to plan it out.
This can mean cutting back on risk in some areas of your investing. Assets you may need in the short term, like savings for college, emergency funds and money for parental care, typically will be in low-risk investments or cash. Longer-term assets, such as retirement funds, typically carry both higher risk and higher growth potential. You may need to scale back those savings or invest them less aggressively in case you need to tap them for parental care.
UTILIZE YOUR FAMILY’S RESOURCES
Discuss care and financial issues with your parents, siblings and anyone else involved. If people are informed and engaged, there is a greater chance that family members will lend a hand. This can mean not only financial help but help with time, too. For instance, if your siblings are local, they can be part of your care team, taking on one of the elder-care or child-rearing roles you need help with.
When siblings do provide time and money for parental care, communication and transparency are essential. Often, not all parties involved know how much others are contributing. Full disclosure can decrease perceived inequities and any resulting resentment. It may also make dealing with inheritance inequities easier since the primary caregiver may receive a larger inheritance. Don’t be petty, but document and keep records of the money and time spent caring for your parents.
PLAN TO SUPPORT YOUR PARENTS’ HEALTH
Part of your planning, especially if an aging parent is moving in with you, should be about his or her everyday activities. Will you need wheelchair accessibility? Are there stairs? What are the safety issues? If Alzheimer’s is involved, this can complicate the situation further. A geriatric care manager can help in this area, too.
HELP YOUR PARENTS STAY ACTIVE
When people move in to long-term care or assisted living facilities, they often decrease their activity level. Many daily tasks that kept them active suddenly stop. This can make health problems worse. This kind of transition can also lead to bouts of depression.
Struthers, Mark. Caring for Aging Parents: Tips for the Sandwich Generation. NerdWallet, 2016. www.nasdaq.com/article/caring-for-aging-parents-tips-for-the-sandwich-generation-cm652136
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