On many days I find myself smack dab in the middle of taking care of my family, my wife and two daughters, while also taking care of my other family, a.k.a. my Mother and Mother-in-law.
We are members of what is referred to as the “sandwich generation” — that is, the population of middle-aged adults who are caught between taking care of their children and taking care of their parents. You may be interested to know, according to the Pew Research Center, almost half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s fit this same profile.
Why do more of our generation, than did previous generations, finds themselves caught in the middle of these two bookend generations? Our parents are living longer and our kids are growing up in a world where it’s harder and harder to maintain financial independence. Many of the millennial generation never left home post high school graduation or are moving back in with Mom and Dad post college graduation.
Some of you may live in a more perfectly prepared sandwich. Your kids are doing well and able to care for themselves financially and otherwise. Your aging parents are in relatively good health and able, for the most part, to care well for themselves both physically and financially. Perhaps they planned well for retirement as part of the pension generation (a rapidly dwindling bunch). However, this is not the reality for many others. You lie in the middle of a not so delectable sandwich, caring for bookend generations as best you can with little left over physically, mentally, financially, or emotionally for yourself.
When it feels like the walls are closing in on all sides and your head is spinning as you are tasked with doing too much at once, how do you find peace in the midst of the overwhelming demands? While I don’t have all the answers I have learned several things living in and working with clients smack dab in the middle of the sandwich generation. Below are four steps you can take to help you find peace and sanity as you navigate through the process of caring for three generations at once.
1. Get everyone on the same page financially.
It is impossible to adequately plan when you don’t have all the information in front of you. This said money is one of the most difficult subjects to discuss. Too often the bad stays hidden. What remains hidden never renders a positive result. God reminds us to bring out into the light that which is kept hidden in the darkness. As long as your children are living under your roof and you are paying for some or all of their needs, you have a right to know where they are financially and to help them learn how to manage well financially. One of the greatest gifts you can give them is to help them find their own sense of independence. On the opposite end of the spectrum are your parents. While you are preparing your children to leave the nest, at the same time you are bringing your parents back under the protection of your nest. I am not going to pretend this is easy. The truth is it isn’t. However, in order for you to be in the best position to help them it is important for you to know the condition of their financial affairs. A Shepherd (leader) never lives above his flock, he always remains among his flock. You are now stepping into that shepherd leader role to a greater extent in your family among multiple generations. Keep in mind, while a daunting task, God always provides where he guides.
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” 1 Peter 5:2
2. Respect and honor your parents financially, while teaching your kids to do the same.
Remember money is never ours, it is God’s and we are all stewards of his goodness. Just because a paycheck comes in our name, or we are the one who pays the bills does not mean all the money is “ours.” With your parents as long as they are cognitively able, discuss the financial matters with them for which you have taken responsibility so they still feel as if they maintain some control over financial decisions. It is important that you show respect for the money they earned and saved over their lifetime. On the other side, teach your younger kids how to manage money by leaving it up to them to pay for some of their “wants.” Adult children who return home to live post-college should pay you for a portion of the household expenses. This allows them the opportunity to show respect and honor to you. Following this course of action honors independence as much as is possible all the way around.
"Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
3. Find a third-party of trust to help you walk through the sandwiched transitions.
Consider working with a financial or transitional advisor. They can help you with everything from saving for your kid’s college to planning for your retirement. As a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) I work with many families as they plan for their kid’s future, their own retirement and how best to help manage and fund their parents elder care. What I have learned over the years is the importance in working alongside someone you trust, who seeks wisdom and knowledge from God as they help you map out your independent and collective journey. I have a book you may find helpful as you navigate through these waters. To learn more about it or to purchase a copy as a resource go to GuyHatcher.com.
“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” Daniel 2:21
4. Love your family well.
As difficult as some days may be as we care for our children and aging parents, the truth is for many of us, we wouldn’t have it any other way. These are our people, those who mean the absolute most to us and who give and have given so much to us. Our parents won’t be here for forever. And eventually most children grow up and leave the nest to set out and establish their own independent lives. So, as members of this sandwich generation, the truth is, we are blessed.
Take some time to appreciate the beautiful legacy of your past as it is reflected in the legacy of your future. The old were once young and the young will one day be old. And such are the seasons of life. We are establishing our legacy through the way we love and care for the bread slices that bind those of us in the middle together. We are sandwiched by love and held together through God’s grace.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.” Eccl. 3:1
Guy Hatcher: The Legacy Guy® – passionately coaches individuals and families in how to live a life filled with purpose while building a strong legacy that will deeply influence present and future generations. Follow him on Facebook: @Guy Hatcher, Instagram: @Guy Hatcher, Twitter @guyhatcher or contact him at www.guyhatcher.com.
Publication date: February 11, 2016