As if dealing with aging parents isn’t enough, the sandwich generation is coping with raising children at the same time. It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time.
Watching a parent in their waning years—with increased medical needs and, for many, reduced financial resources—is heart breaking for any child. Meanwhile, your own children have needs that run the gamut between your time (which is severely stretched anyway), your attention and the financial resources to clothe, feed, educate and enrich them.
Jane and Peter sat down for an interim “catch up” meeting.
Jane’s first comment: “We have to be out of here in an hour—we told the baby sitter we’d be home by three.”
Peter’s phone went off. “It’s my mother. I wonder what trouble she’s gotten into now? I’d better take this.” Peter stepped out of the conference room.
“This is kind of how our life is now. Our kids need a lot of attention, Peter’s mother is failing and my father is very ill. Is there any wonder why we haven’t been in for a regular meeting in awhile?”
Peter stepped back in, “I think she’s going to be sent to the hospital, let’s get this done so I can get there.”
Jane said, “We haven’t been able to focus on all the issues we discussed originally. I think we set up the college fund, but haven’t figured out how to fund it because so much has changed. Peter’s father needs help and has no money, but if we spend it helping, we don’t have the resources to put money away for our kids’ education.”
So what can you do if you’re stuck in the middle of this new and difficult life stage? Here are five “Cs” to keep in mind.
- Communicate. Ask for help, talk to everyone involved and lay out all the facts. This is no time to circle the wagons and try to handle everything yourself.
- Community. Reach out to the appropriate groups for guidance and assistance. Other parents, gerontologists, siblings, support groups, anyone and everyone who might have useful information. Find a great therapist to help support YOU and your family while you’re trying to juggle all these different needs.
- Choose. Choose what resources you have to devote to each part of your life. Time, money, energy and attention are all resources that must be doled out appropriately. Make sure you speak with your CPA, attorney, financial planner, etc. for their input on financial and legal matters. Remember, you can’t get more than 24 hours out of a day and you cannot spend more money than you have. Choices—albeit difficult ones—need to be made.
- Consciousness. Be aware that guilt is a sure fire condition that will lead to the wrong answers for the wrong reasons. Your awareness of your financial resources and what will negatively impact your ability to thrive is key in getting through this challenge.
- Capital. Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions. Capital can come in the form of time or money. It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.
Everyone’s situation is unique, so resist believing that if someone you know handled things one way, that that is the perfect way. There are parents whose parents are extremely wealthy and some who wait for their social security check to pay for groceries. There are situations where there are siblings who help out financially and share time to help, while others are in this alone. There is no one right answer. There’s only the answer that solves as many problems as possible.
If you find yourself caught up between generations needing your help, time and resources, take a step back and assess what is most important to you and what you can rationally provide each person in need. It’s rarely easy, quick and painless, but if you focus on those 5 C’s, you may just uncover the 6th C. Clarity. Good luck.