Sandwich Generation Hungry for Solutions

multigenfamilyI’ll admit that the first time I heard the phrase sandwich generation, I thought they were talking about the days when we all brought our lunches to school. That would certainly be more idyllic than being wedged between your children and your parents at just the moment when they both need you the most.

Instead of an empty nest, many baby boomers are looking at what some call a Cluttered Nest. By some estimates, about two-thirds of all baby boomers will be taking care of an elderly parent in the next ten years. With extended life expectancies, some boomers are looking at a scenario where they spend the same amount of time caring for their aging parents as they did raising their children – an average of 18 years. The financial squeeze of a child in college and a parent in a nursing home is about as sobering as it gets. Boomerang kids who return to the nest at the same time as a grandparent is another recipe for increased stress.

This phenomena is putting a lot of stress on couples who have to deal with the emotional and financial roller coaster that comes with being in the sandwich. One popular solution is the intergenerational household, which is really a throwback to the time when everyone lived with their parents and grandchildren had an opportunity to interact more with older adults. oldyounghandsThe only problem is that we have forgotten how to live in intergenerational households, so it takes some time for everyone to figure out how to make it work.

It also helps a lot to have an understanding employer. You need a lot more flexibility in your schedule when dealing with an elderly parent, and fortunately, there are more and more enlightened businesses who recognize the squeeze that’s been put on some of their most productive and valuable employees.

What can you do to survive the cluttered nest? Experts agree that there are some basic steps you can take to preserve everyone’s mental health.

  • First and foremost, you need to stay healthy and live your life. Don’t sacrifice so much that you turn into a martyr.
  • Make time for your partner too – they are just as important, if not more, than your parent or child.
  • Know when to draw the line on how much burden you can carry alone.
  • Find time for privacy – not only for yourself, but also for you and your spouse together.
  • grandmomkidWhen a parent does come to live with you, agree on the ground rules for everyone, and be realistic. Your parent is not just moving in to be your childcare worker and your children need to learn how to respect their elders.
  • Get help when you feel overwhelmed. There are community resources (more all the time) that target the needs of the sandwich generation, so find out how they can help in your situation.
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss how the cluttered nest or support for a parent in a nursing home may effect your retirement and other plans (e.g. travel). Ignoring these topics can lead to festering resentments that threaten everyone’s mental well being.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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