Take one adult, aged 48 to 64 years, employment variable. Add one or more dependent child or grandchild and one or more aging parent. Multiply by two if married. Combine financial responsibilities, saving for college and retirement planning. Add long distance. Season with guilt and worry.
My Mom has been in the hospital this week, 3,000 miles away, for surgery and I have been feeling very guilty about not being there. It came up a bit suddenly, we talked about it, and I decided not to travel there with my daughter at this time. We’ve talked on the phone daily and everything has gone okay for her. She has some help lined up at home and we’re taking it a day at a time.
This is the latest stressful situation – I am never sure of the best way to handle them. I dread bad news when the phone rings. My years as part of the “Sandwich Generation” are just beginning. I have a full-time job and financial responsibility for my household. My daughter is still in school and my Mom lives independently; So far it’s been more about worrying and emotional stress, and not financial stress. The what-ifs and what-should-I-do weigh heavily on my mind.
We’ve already dealt with my Mom’s move from her house to an apartment, paying off debt and her husband’s declining health and recent death. For some of these, my support has been only emotional and of a problem solving nature. In other cases, it has involved physically traveling 3,000 miles to be there in person. For each thing I’ve done, there have probably been five more things I could have done if we lived closer to each other. That’s where much of the guilt comes in. There’s the constant need to evaluate whether the seriousness of a situation requires an in-person visit. Sometimes the decisions are not mine to make and I need to respect her wishes and take a step back. My mom has to make her own long term decisions and I try to be supportive.
Since I don’t see my mother on a regular basis, I try to gauge her wellness through phone calls and lots of questions. It is like role reversal – the child becoming the parent. What did your doctor say when you had your last exam? Did you go to the grocery store this week? Did you pay your bills? Are you taking the recyclables and garbage down to the bins? Did you get out of the apartment this week? I nag all the time.
These are situations that many people deal with on a daily basis as they get closer to their own retirement and still have to care for dependent children and aging parents. We don’t always talk about it but everyone has some challenge or another. It helps me to think I can control some things but the reality is that there’s always something around the corner that can upset the best plans.
I try to reduce my own stress about the unknown by planning ahead. Seeing a parent age really makes me more aware of the need to be able to take care of myself.
Here are some things I do and think about:
• I save for retirement and have for the last 23 years, like a squirrel hoarding my nuts. I wonder when I will be able to retire from a stressful career. How much money do I need? Will I be able to take a different job and still meet my retirement goals? What do I want my retirement to be like? Do I want to move? Can I afford to be retired for 30 years?
• I save for college for my daughter. She probably won’t get a full ride but the rest we will plan together to come up with a combination of student loans and affordable choices. My financial security comes first. It’s a bit like the emergency air mask on an airplane. Help yourself before you can be able to assist someone else.
• I keep vacation days in reserve in case of emergency. For my own mental health, I don’t use all my vacation time for family visits. I need my own time to recharge and relax. I need breaks from work and take them more frequently. There are no-cost staycations and fun travel vacations with my daughter when we can afford it.
• I try to live a healthier lifestyle, though this is an area where I’ve had mixed success. I still get overwhelmed, don’t sleep enough, have gained weight, get more easily annoyed and often feel sad. I also say “no” more and make time to just do nothing. I need to exercise more and ask for help when I need it.
As the Sandwich Generation deals with these types of issues, I believe we will hear much more dialogue on the subject and people will reach out for support. As a society, I don’t believe the resources are in place to offset the tidal wave of help needed. I know I struggle with when and where to ask for help.
Do you reach out for help in dealing with the combination of raising your family and caring for a parent? What helps you the most?
All my best,