It’s Not Just the “Sandwich Generation” – It’s a Triple-Decker

Marlena is a 53-year-old professional who works out of her home office and provides care for her two octogenarian parents, whose health is rapidly declining. She is also a wife, and mom to two teenagers. When it comes to her parents, she often feels like she is taking care of toddlers again, as they spend most of the day complaining about being too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, bored, or in one way or another, uncomfortable. Besides the concern about going broke, the biggest challenge for Marlena is holding onto her patience.

Dealing with one aging parent is challenging enough, but, as you can see from Marlena’s situation, the emotional and financial stress can be more than double if you are caring for both parents at the same time (and maintaining your own busy life). In fact, according to a new study by Northwestern Mutual, 59% of Americans feel that taking care of two parents between ages 85 and 90 would be even harder than handling two kids between ages 3 and 5. Not to mention the financial burden. According to the most recent Pew Research on the Sandwich Generation, financial stress among 40-59 year olds is likely to increase the more people they help financially.

So, How Can She Cope?

Being financially strung between two generations may leave those in the “sandwich generation” feeling isolated. However, many other people are experiencing the same thing, struggling with the same obstacles, and coping with the same limitations. Below are 3 common stressful situations and a few coping techniques someone such as Marlena can use to maintain her sanity and financial security.

Concern: We make enough money to support my current household, but supporting my parents stretches us way too thin.

How to cope: Instead of trying to be super-parent and super-kid all at once, have a conversation with your parents and children about the financial constraints you are under. Make sure to be respectful and reassuring, but be honest about the joint financial implications supporting multiple generations have on your situation.

Concern: I spend a full work week at work and then another 40 or so hours taking care of my aging parents. I’m exhausted. I can’t leave Mom or Dad to their own devices, but I can’t cut back on my hours at work.

How to cope: Your first instinct as a child may be to drop everything and handle all your parents’ needs yourself. But if it comes at the cost of your own family and your own career, think about the ripple effects – on your retirement savings, on the needs of your own kids, even on your own sanity.

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