Planning · March 24, 2022

Women and Caregiving: Strategies to Not Get Squeezed in the Sandwich Generation

By your 40s and 50s, you're likely in a place where your career is reaching a peak and you're starting to think about what your retirement may look like. But during that time, you may also find yourself caring for and providing some financial assistance to two generations—your children and your aging parents. You're at an age in life deemed the sandwich generation.

You're not alone in the sandwich generation—47% of adults in their 40s and 50s make up this segment. And even adults in their 60s can be part of this group where they may also have a bonus generation—their grandchildren—for whom they need to care.

In most cases, women are the ones who step into that caregiving role. And as the trend of having children later in life emerges, along with medical advances that help people live longer, this generation will continue to expand.

This time of life can be overwhelming if you find yourself in it. It's best to focus on strategies to help you manage the demands of being in the sandwich generation. Let's dive into some of those strategies below.

Set your priorities

If you find yourself the primary caregiver for both an aging parent and children, you've likely realized it's a tremendous daily strain—both emotionally and financially. This is especially true if you don't have adult siblings or other family members able to help you care physically or financially for said aging parent. You may also be in a situation where your siblings or other family members disagree over the best course of action for elder care, or don't pitch in enough.

With that in mind, the first thing to do is put yourself in the mindset that this will be a marathon, not a sprint. This phase of life can last one to two years, but potentially more. You don't want to burn out within the first few months trying to figure everything out immediately.

Next, focus on encouraging communication with your family so you can all share the financial, time and emotional burdens of being in the sandwich generation. You can do this by holding regular family meetings where you can identify issues, establish priorities and delegate tasks. Women often believe they have to do it all, but with a situation as complex as being in the sandwich generation, there's no reason why other adult family members shouldn't help with the workload.

Lastly, spend some time getting your family's finances in order. If you find yourself in a situation where either you or your partner need to reduce work hours or entirely leave a job, you're in a position where your family is facing reduced income. Here are some ways to keep your family's finances on track:

  • Establish a family budget and review it regularly. It should be realistic and balance your income and new financial caregiving costs.
  • Explore other care arrangements before quitting your job, as this should be your last resort. If you need more time at home either for children or aging parents, see if you can change your current work situation to hybrid or fully remote, add flexible hours or take unpaid leave. Check out daycare or in-home care options for your children and/or aging parent(s). You can also see if your employer offers discounts for such services through your benefits plan.
  • Put as much money as you can into your retirement accounts and avoid drawing on those funds to pay for any additional expense you'll incur during this time.

Establish a plan for your parents

The first thing you'll want to do when beginning to care for your parents is understand their financial situation. Here are some key questions to ask them.

  • How much retirement income do you have, and where are those accounts?
  • Do you have long-term care and/or life insurance policies and how much do they cover?
  • Do you own your home?
  • Where are all the documents and account information associated with your accounts?
  • Do you have a durable and/or healthcare power of attorney?
  • Who's your financial professional and/or closest friends on whom you rely for advice and support?

These are a lot of questions to cover and may cause some tension between you and your parents. If necessary, break these questions out into several conversations.

The next thing you'll need to tackle is how you'll care for your parents, depending on their proximity to you. If your parents live a good distance away, you'll need to find a reliable way to monitor them from afar. While daily phone calls or video chats may help, it's not the same as in-person monitoring either through your own eyes or those of a hired caregiver.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each option. If you go in person, you'll have witnessed your parents' status with your own eyes. However, you should also prepare for more regular trips, which can make managing work and childcare more challenging. If you hire a geriatric care manager or home health aide, you know you'll have someone locally who can help your parents at a moment's notice and can connect you to community resources, but you might not get the same peace of mind as visiting yourself.

If your parents are at the point where they need more regular care, here are some steps you should take:

  • Have a list of your parents' assets and consolidate their financial accounts.
  • Keep a list of your parents' doctors and current medications.
  • Work with your parents to establish critical estate planning documents like a durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney and a will.
  • Consult your tax professional to see if you're eligible for certain tax benefits due to your caregiving. You might be able to claim a parent in need of care as a dependent, for example.
  • Explore assisted living or nursing home options if your parents' needs are great enough.

And don't forget you shouldn't go at this alone. If you have adult siblings or other family members who can help research options, collect information or contribute financially, ask them to do so.

Meet your children's needs

While they may not show it, your children will likely feel the effect of you being in the sandwich generation more than you think, especially if they're teenagers. As pre-college aged children (and in some cases, young adults), they still need both you and your partner's attention which may be drawn in multiple directions at this time in your life. There are some things you can do to help balance out this need, though.

First, have an honest conversation with your children about why you need to start caring for your aging parents and how that will impact your time at home. Depending on the situation, your children may be impacted by you travelling more to see your parents or by an aging family member moving in with you. During this conversation, you may also want ask your children to take on more responsibilities at home such as helping with chores or cooking meals.

Next, consider using your financial preparation to take care of your parents as a teaching moment for your children. Discuss with your children how you and your partner are setting your financial priorities and budgets, and any other financial lessons that may seem important based on their age.

Lastly, try building in regular alone time with your children where you can give them your undivided attention. This can be something as simple as an afternoon out of the house to something more removed like a weekend away. Whatever way you choose to have that alone time, know that it can help ease any tensions that may arise as a result of your responsibilities being split between their needs and your parents' needs.

Don't forget your needs

As you enter and live in the sandwich generation, don't forget you can't pour from an empty cup. You can and should still make time for things that energize and mentally restore you. That may be having time to be by yourself each day, go to an exercise class, or have a night out with just you and your partner.

And don't let guilt creep in when you take this time for yourself. You will likely find yourself in this position for a few years, so putting your needs first in some way on a regular basis will put you in a better position to take care of those around you.


A few financial insights for your life

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