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The Sandwich Generation: Juggling Family Responsibilities

At a time when your career is reaching a peak and you are looking ahead to your own retirement, you may find yourself in the position of having to help your children with college expenses while at the same time looking after the needs of your aging parents. Squeezed in the middle, you've joined the ranks of the "sandwich generation."

What challenges will you face?

Your parents faced some of the same challenges that you may be facing now: adjusting to a new life as empty nesters and getting reacquainted with each other as a couple. However, life has grown even more complicated in recent years. Here are some of the things you can expect to face as a member of the sandwich generation today:

What can you do to prepare for the future?

Holding down a job and raising a family in today's world is hard enough without having to worry about keeping the three-headed monster of college, retirement, and concerns about elderly parents at bay. But if you take some time now to determine your goals and work on a flexible plan, you'll save much stress—and expense—in years to come. Planning ahead gives you the chance to take the wishes of the entire family into account and to reduce future disagreements with your siblings over the care of your parents.

Here are some ways you can prepare now for the issues you may face in the future:

Caring for your parents

Much depends on whether a parent is living with you or out of town. If your parent lives a distance away, you have the responsibility of monitoring his or her welfare from afar. Daily phone calls can be time consuming, and having to rely on your parent's support network may be frustrating. Travel to your parent's home may be expensive, and you may worry about being away from family. To reduce your stress, try to involve your siblings (if you have any) in looking after Mom or Dad, too. If your parent's needs are great enough, you may also want to consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager who can help oversee your parent's care and direct you to the community resources your parent needs.

Eventually, though, you may decide that your parent needs to move in with you. If this happens, keep the following points in mind:

Considering the needs of your children

Your children may be feeling the effects of your situation more than you think, especially if they are teenagers. At a time when they are most in need of your patience and attention, you may be preoccupied with your parents and how to look after them.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to balance your family's needs:

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Get enough rest and relaxation every evening, and stay involved with your friends and interests. Finally, keep lines of communication open with your spouse, parents, children, and siblings. This may be especially important for the smooth running of your multi-generation family, resulting in a workable and healthy home environment.

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