Managing From the Middle: Sandwich Generation Caregiving

Are you one of the millions of Americans providing care to both minor kids at home and aging family members? This so-called sandwich generation is due to changes in the American lifestyle. We wait longer to have children and plan to have fewer of them. We juggle child rearing in dual-career families.

Family caregiving responsibilities, combined with demanding, full-time jobs, can be a lot to handle. But there is good news: far more people report caregiving more rewarding than stressful. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the time and financial consequences of taking on these dual caregiving roles and offer tips for balancing your responsibilities. 

What is the Sandwich Generation?

The sandwich generation isn’t technically a generation. It is a term used to describe people who provide care to one or more parents 65 or older while raising minor children (or grandchildren). Some experts also include adults who offer assistance to both their adult children and aging parents. 

Sometimes this is referred to as eldercare. As defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, eldercare is “providing unpaid care or assistance to someone aged 65 or older who needs help because of a condition related to aging.” 

Time Squeeze

Baby boomers have been feeling the squeeze of dual caregiving for years. As baby boomers age, Generation X and millennials are starting to take on dual caregiving roles, too. In fact, one in four is a millennial. 

Most of the sandwich generation spends an average of 23 hours each week caring for an aging parent or in-law, according to a Time study. Those hours typically wrap around a job: three-fourths of 44 million unpaid caregivers are employed outside the home, according to the CDC.

Even in the 21st century, women still spend more time doing unpaid work, including caregiving. One study found American women spend 67% more time than men doing unpaid work. 

Eldercare can include spending time doing any or all of the following:

  • Preparing meals or shopping for food
  • Arranging medical care appointments
  • Assisting with feeding or grooming
  • Housekeeping 
  • Paying bills and managing finances
  • Providing transportation
  • Providing companionship
  • Being available just in case an older adult needs you

Financial Impact

Most Americans believe they have a responsibility to help their aging parents financially. Among adults with at least one parent 65 or older, three in ten said they had supported their parents financially during the previous year, according to Pew Research Center. 

Caregiving for an older adult cost a caregiver an average $7,000 per year in out-of-pocket costs, an AARP study noted. Dual caregivers are also more likely to carry credit card debt and raid retirement or college savings accounts. 

Your ability to make a living – or move up in your career – can also be impacted by caregiving duties. An AARP study found 56% of caregivers experience at least one work-related strain such as working different hours, working fewer or more hours, or having to take time off. 

Family Caregiving Tips for the Sandwich Generation

Take care of yourself first. This is the No. 1 rule of caregiving. You won’t be able to provide quality care if you wear yourself to a frazzle. Strive to get six to eight hours of sleep every day, exercise regularly, and eat healthy meals and snacks. Don’t skip medical and dental checkups. Get a flu shot. When the stress becomes too much, put yourself in a timeout and walk away for a few minutes. 

Ask for help. If you don’t ask, it’s unlikely anyone will offer to help with caregiving: they see your superhuman ability to juggle it all without seeming to drop any balls. 

You shouldn’t have to shoulder the full responsibility of caregiving for a parent just because they live nearest you. Even long-distance, siblings can provide financial support. Suggest they stay with your parents when your family needs a vacation. Ask them to spend a weekend on home maintenance if your parent, like 90% of aging adults, still lives on their own. 

If you’re an only child or your siblings are unable or unwilling to provide the time or financial support, reach out to other family members such as your cousins or your parents’ healthier siblings. Your parents also may have close friends or neighbors willing to help.  Smithlife Homecare is also here to help 24/7.  Just give us a call any time at 301-816-5020. 

Talk to your kids about your caregiving responsibilities. Discuss the trade-offs your family is facing as money and time are stretched by caregiving. If money is tight, offer to support your children in non-monetary ways. Explain to young children that while they aren’t responsible for providing care to their grandparents, they might need to help more with household chores or younger siblings.  

Redefine nanny duties. If you pay a nanny for your children, consider allocating some of those hours to helping your older family members. This can be done when your children attend school, playdates, or sporting activities. Be clear about expectations and priorities, particularly if your older family member will live with you. 

Ditch the guilt. Every family has the right to create a solution that works best for them. It can be challenging when you’re asked to provide care for an aging parent who was abusive, neglectful, or absent. 

If you can’t – or don’t want to – assume care for an older family member who is legally incompetent and unable to make their own decisions, seek legal advice on having a legal guardian appointed. You can find more information through Health and Human Services or Adult Protective Services. 

Keep working as long as you are able. Hiring a caregiver often costs less than giving up your full-time salary. Plus, you’ll likely need the benefits, notably any 401(k) match or long-term care insurance coverage to offset costs of your future care. 

Talk to your boss and human resources staff about the impact of providing care for two generations is having on your time and energy. Your company may offer some paid caregiving assistance. About half of employers offer flexible hours, and 22% offer telecommuting as an option. Nearly one quarter provide an Employee Assistance Program that offers mental health and financial counseling. 

Maximize tax credits and pre-tax contributions.  Ask if your employer offers a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA). You can set it up to use pre-tax dollars to pay for childcare and/or qualified expenses such as adult daycare for an older adult while you are at work. For 2019, the IRS limits your contribution to $5,000 for married couples filing jointly. Ask your human resources department for more information. 

Ask your tax professional about Child and Dependent Care Credit. Your parent must meet income requirements set by the IRS before you can claim them as a dependent. You’ll also have to document that you provided more than half of your parent’s support. 

Make a family plan sooner rather than later. Illness or an injury can sideline your parents long before they expect to be dependent on you. Only about half of the families surveyed via Fidelity’s Family & Finance study had a detailed conversation about these issues, and 23% hadn’t talked about it at all.

Even if you have discussed it, you and your parents may not agree on caregiving. Two-fifths of Fidelity study participants – one parent and one adult child from each family – disagreed on the roles adult children should play as their parents age. 

Whatever you do, involve all adult family members in the conversation and write down the plan. Talk about money and who can step in to handle another’s finances – and establish checks and balances, so bills don’t get forgotten. 

Let Smithlife Homecare help your family.

If your family is like millions of other American families, you’ll struggle to do it all. Smithlife Homecare can take over some of your caregiving duties. We offer several options to give you the freedom to have time for other priorities, such as work and taking care of your kids. Our agency is available 24/7. Call us today at 301-816-5020 to learn about the options we provide to support you in caring for your loved one.

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