I've recently discovered that I'm becoming part of the "sandwich generation." Heads up—you might be joining me here…
Social worker Dorothy Miller, originally coined the term "sandwich generation" back in 1981. The sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.
Merriam-Webster and Oxford English officially added the term to their dictionaries in 2006. So, while sandwich generation caregiver may sound like a quirky term, the trend is a phenomenon few of us will be able to avoid.
We could go into more specific categories. Some of us could be classified a Club Sandwich: Those in their 50s-60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s-40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
But the question is, now that we know, what do we do?
Speaking from the perspective of the child whose parents are just beginning to enter the phase where they "might" need more of my input and guidance, I have quickly become keenly aware of my parents' point of view. Claire Berman, author of Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents writes…
"As parents get older, attempts to hold on to our independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned ‘suggestions' from our children. We want to be cared about, but fear being cared for. Hence the push and pull when a well-meaning offspring steps onto our turf."
Wow! If I had only read what Claire had said before meddling in my parents' business, we might have gotten off to a better start as they move forward in life. Claire hits the nail on the head pointing to the delicacy of the relationship between parent and child as our parents age. If you can put yourself in your parents' place for a minute, you can begin to think through things that you're doing and saying to your parents a bit differently. The problem for most of us, is the time to be thoughtful in our approach just doesn't seem to be there given the tugs and pulls of our daily lives.
As a member of the sandwich generation, you're in one of 3 phases with your parents.
- Beginning to Notice
- Transition Phase
- Decision Maker
If you and your parents are in the Beginning to Notice phase, you'll have begun to notice some changes, slowdowns and a few questionable decisions here and there by your parents. The key here, as Claire Berman so thoughtfully mentions, is to assist your parents in making decisions for themselves rather than "suggesting" what they should do. This is often a bit tricky, but asking questions about a situation and then asking what they think is often one of the best ways to move forward in giving an "assist" rather than a suggestion or decision on their behalf.
Of course, some move right past the Beginning to Notice phase and you see your parents suddenly in that Transition Phase–where an illness, a memory loss, an accident, or simply the aging process has changed your parents' confidence level and your confidence in their decision-making abilities as well. In this Transition Phase, you may or may not have a lot of time to analyze their situation, yet need to act.
Keep in mind that in this phase, your parents may move in and out of needing your assistance. It's truly one of the trickiest times of your and your parents' life. As they battle to keep their independence, it may be best (as long as it's safe) for you to battle for their independence along with them, at least verbally. At the same time, you are monitoring what's "safe" for them all along the way.
And finally, the Decision Maker. I'm definitely not in this phase yet with my parents, however, many have been quickly pushed into this position due to sudden illness of one or both parents. That illness or incident could make it definitive that you will forever more be that Decision Maker for your parent or parents.
This Decision Maker role is the role that we can plan for through the assistance of Elder Law Attorneys and Senior Care Advocacy Groups. We can (and should) do our research well in advance of being in this position, and it can help us and our parents if in fact we get to this role.
If, however, we've waited too late to talk with our parents about future decisions to get their buy-in, it may be one of the most difficult times. Or, you may have a parent or parents who simply won't allow your input or any dialogue about their future–in which case, this phase then becomes one of the most difficult for you. Don't hesitate to get a good Elder Law attorney to help. It can save you emotionally and financially. I can give you an example:
Ann's sons had power of attorney–indicating that they could take financial steps on Ann's behalf. She has over $100,000 in assets, which disqualified her for Medicaid benefits. Her sons calculated that in her current supportive living facility, she would be out of money within 2 years.
Strohschein Law Group implemented some planning—such as the use of a prepaid burial plan and a pooled trust–and were able to reorganize Ann's total assets so that she could qualify for Medicaid benefits. Ann was able to remain at the supportive living facility as she wished, direct her total income to the facility to be put toward the cost of the care that she required. Most importantly, Ann's quality of life was greatly enhanced through the planning that was done, allowing her the use of her assets during her lifetime, and allowing her the choice of several appropriate facilities to call home.
You are not alone in your "sandwiched" situation. There are tools out there that include the knowledge of Elder Law attorneys. New York Times journalist, Jane Gross, has made it her mission to keep on top of this ever-changing topic. She has a blog https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/author/jane-gross/ and has written an engaging and comprehensive book called A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents–and Ourselves.
It is never too soon to begin your research. The more you know, the more you can plan, the smoother this will go.
Important Note: The views expressed in this post are as of the date of the posting and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This post contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
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Claire Berman is a writer based in New York. She is the author of Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents. -The Atlantic March 2016
Financial Planning Association