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Caring for aging parents: Tips for the sandwich generation

The following tips can help you mentally, emotionally and financially during a challenging time.

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    A girl celebrates Christmas with her grandmother at Sunrise Assisted Living of Norwood facility in Norwood, Massachusetts.
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Learn more about Mark at NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

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.

The following tips for each element can help you mentally, emotionally and financially during a challenging time.

Emotional well-being

Increased stress and your world suddenly getting smaller as more of your social time is consumed with parent care can affect all parts of your life in a negative way. So make sure you:

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

This means taking time for yourself. Set aside time to recharge your batteries. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything. We are all human, and taking time for yourself can make the time you give to your family more effective. 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.

Another option is to hire a geriatric care manager to oversee your parents’ care. The Aging Life Care Association is a good resource to find a qualified person. A care manager can be especially valuable if your parents are in another part of the country. He or she can manage care indefinitely or until your parents can be moved, and can even assist with the move.

For help with the financial aspect, look for a fee-only planner who has the certified financial planner (CFP), designation, often considered the gold standard in the industry. Groups like the National Association of Personal Financial Planners are member organizations that have competency and ethics standards, giving you a pre-screened pool of candidates.

Finding ways to delegate some of your child-rearing tasks is another option. A company like College Nannies and Tutors can be a great resource to find nanny services for young children, sitters for older kids or tutors and test-prep services for teens.

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. How would you want your kids to deal with you in 30 years? Show your parents the same respect and thoughtful decision-making you would want others to show you.

You children may be living with grandma and grandpa, too, so they should be involved in the conversation. Harmony is more likely if everyone plays a role. If your kids are old enough, maybe they can take something off your plate. Even the youngest children can surprise you if they think they can make a difference.

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.

Financial consequences

Figuring out how to pay for day-to-day care for your parents can be challenging if you haven’t already saved for it. To ease the financial burden:

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 usually means 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.

Also keep in mind that caring for an aging parent also includes indirect costs like decreased work productivity and fewer promotions. This can be a result of not just the time involved in care, but also the emotional drain. Get help if you need to, but make a plan.

TAP 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.

Healthy parents

As your parents age, it’s likely that medical issues will arise, so it’s important to plan ways to help them maintain physical and mental health.

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. Companies such as Independence Home Fitness Curriculum focus on health for the elderly in assisted living and long-term care.

Life is full of surprises, both good and bad. You never know what might happen or what your family might need of you. Because it isn’t often part of how we envision our lives unfolding, we are rarely prepared to care for both our children and our parents at the same time. But with planning and a thoughtful approach, there is a greater chance that the good will outweigh the bad and your whole family will be better off.

Mark Struthers, CFA, CFP, is a fee-only planner with Sona Financial in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

This article also appears on Nasdaq.

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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