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Tips for the Sandwich Generation

Mar 20, 2018 4 min read Connie Thompson

Key Takeaways

  • It's never too soon to start doing your homework about where and how your aging parents will live in their later years.
  • Juggling the responsibilities of being "sandwiched" between child care and elder care is made easier by asking for the help you need.
  • To minimize stress, get a handle on your — and your parents' — finances early on.

 

After raising three kids, I thought my diapering years were over, at least until that far-off day when grandchildren would arrive — until, that is, I found myself responsible for an even more daunting task: diapering my 86-year-old mother. In the wake of a nasty bout of pneumonia, mom was diagnosed with dementia. Suddenly, amid college auditions for my oldest, soccer practice for the youngest and horse shows for the one in between, I found myself also juggling assisted living solutions.


Having had my kids later in life, I am now part of the "sandwich generation" — people caring for aging parents while supporting their own children. According to the Pew Research Center Opens in new window, at least one in eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 finds themselves "simultaneously raising a child, holding down a job and caring for an elderly parent."

 

 

It didn't help that mom lived a two-hour flight away in the middle of a soybean field in West Tennessee. So, since taking care of my mother in my home with my family of five was not an option, I faced the challenge of trying to find a facility for her near her home.

My first step was to contact an online placement referral service. I chose A Place for mom Opens in new window, although I can't say whether it's better than any of the other options out there. It was the one I'd heard the most about and, like most people racing against hospital release dates, I didn't have a lot of time to be picky.
 

Finding the right facility

Referral services offer families free assistance and get paid by the facilities when a resident moves in. For out-of-towners like me, their front-end help reduces the number of possible facilities to be toured, saving both time and money.

Whether working with a referral service or on your own, though, it's important to base your decisions not only on what you can see now, but also on what may happen over the next few months and years. I naively chose a facility that had an area for dementia patients but did not offer much in terms of memory care.

 

 

I also did not choose a facility well enough equipped to deal with end-of-life issues. Eventually, then, after another hospital visit, I had to move mom from the original facility into a nursing home that could provide the care she needed as her condition rapidly worsened.

 

So, you've found a place for mom…now what?

Finding an assisted living facility was just the first battle in a war that, in my case, mercifully lasted less than four months. For others, and in many cases, it can last for years and, depending on whether there are siblings to share the burden, how old your kids are and the distances involved, the logistics can take a hefty toll in terms of both time and money.

For the long term, important things to consider include:

  • Getting help with the kids. As my mother became increasingly ill, I flew to her side four times in three months. For families with younger children, it may be wise to line up extra paid care or at least a network of friends willing to pitch in at a moment's notice.
  • Telling your boss. Odds are, even the most hard-hearted boss will understand your need to be two places at once. Being able to work remotely — even from the ICU, in fact — enabled me to save days off while staying by my mother's side for as long as she needed me. Make sure you have this conversation with your supervisor early on, so that, when you need last-minute time off, there is already a plan in place.
  • Planning for the end. While nobody likes to think about it, when you make the choice to move your relative into a senior living facility, they aren't going back home. Because my mother's condition deteriorated so rapidly and I had no siblings, I couldn't do much to get her house in order. A year later, I found myself still struggling from afar to organize the contents of and eventually sell her sprawling ranch house located, as my 12-year-old put it, “in the middle of nowhere." If you have the option, it's best to take care of as much organizing as you can before losing your parent.
  • Getting the finances in order. Depending on the facility you choose and your parent's financial situation, paying for long-term care can take a chunk out of your own nest egg. When I considered moving my mother to New Jersey, I was surprised to find how many facilities did not accept Medicare. That means that when your parent's funds are gone, you either have to dip into yours or move them to another facility. In neighboring states, like Pennsylvania, this was not the case. Driving a few miles further, then, you may get more bang for your buck.

     

Lessons learned

Looking back, I think I handled the situation as well as I could have, given the circumstances. Still, better planning could have saved me a lot of time, money and stress.

When you find yourself sandwiched between caring for aging parents and young children, the stress is not to be taken lightly, according to Amy Goyer, author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. “Every responsibility requires emotional and mental energy," she advises Opens in new window, writing for AARP. “Consider a variety of ways to refill your energy tank so you can keep going."

Goyer, who cares for her 93-year-old father who has advanced Alzheimer's disease, is a family and caregiving expert for AARP, which offers online advice and resources for caregivers Opens in new window.

Juggling the demands of caring for your children and your parents at the same time may seem to be an insurmountable challenge. But if you plan carefully and reach out for the help you need, you can meet the challenge while keeping your relationships intact.

 

What you can do next

Stop right now and imagine what steps you would need to take if you received a phone call later today that your parent had suffered a stroke or fall. What are the first gaps you need to address: logistics, timing, funding? Start doing the homework required to fill those gaps — before you receive such a call.

 

Connie Thompson is a senior communications specialist at Prudential. She has written for various newspapers and previously was a news editor for Dow Jones News Service.

 

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