Generation X, born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, is often described as being “sandwiched” between their aging parents’ and their children’s needs. As we have mentioned in a previous post, this group has unique challenges and responsibilities that are often overlooked, so let’s explore some of how Gen X is sandwiched and how they can cope with the pressures of balancing caregiving with parenting.
The term “sandwich generation” was coined in the 1980s to describe adults who were caring for their aging parents while still raising their children. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising or financially supporting a grown child. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Gen Xers to manage the needs of both their children and their aging parents.
The Challenges of Caregiving
Caring for aging parents can be emotionally and financially draining. As parents age, they may need help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and eating. They may also require medical care and assistance with managing their finances. Gen X is often responsible for coordinating and providing this care, which can be a full-time job in itself.
One of the biggest challenges of caregiving is the emotional toll it can take on the caregiver. Watching a parent decline in health or lose their independence can be heartbreaking. It can also be frustrating to deal with the complex medical and financial issues that come with aging. Many Gen Xers report feeling overwhelmed and stressed by their caregiving responsibilities.
The Pressure of Parenting
Parenting is always challenging, but Gen X faces some unique pressures. This generation came of age during a time of economic uncertainty and rapid social change. They may worry about their children’s future in a rapidly changing world. In addition, they are often more involved in their children’s lives than in previous generations. They may attend more activities and events, provide more financial support, and be more involved in their children’s education.
This increased involvement can be both rewarding and stressful. Parents may struggle to balance their work and personal lives with their children’s needs. They may also feel pressure to provide their children with the best opportunities, such as private school or extracurricular activities. This can be financially difficult, especially if they also support aging parents.
Despite the challenges of being sandwiched between caring for aging parents and parenting, Gen X has developed several coping strategies. These include:
- Seeking support from friends and family: Many Gen Xers rely on their support networks to help them navigate the challenges of caregiving and parenting. They may turn to siblings, cousins, or close friends for emotional support or to help with caregiving tasks.
- Utilizing technology: Technology can be a powerful tool for managing caregiving and parenting responsibilities. Gen Xers may use apps to keep track of medication schedules, appointments, and other important information. They may also use social media to connect with other caregivers or to stay in touch with their children.
- Taking care of themselves: Gen Xers need to prioritize. This may involve taking time for themselves, such as going for a walk or taking a yoga class. It may also involve seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling.
- Seeking professional support: Gen Xers may also turn to professional resources for help with caregiving and parenting. This may include hiring a caregiver for their aging parents or working with a financial planner to manage their finances.
Tips to Help with Stress
Let’s take a look at a few tips to help with the financial stress created by these competing priorities.
- Prioritize retirement savings: With competing financial obligations, it can be tempting to put retirement savings on the back burner. However, it’s important to prioritize this goal, as your children can take out loans for college, but you can’t take out loans for retirement. It is often said that the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure they don’t have to support us financially in our old age. In many ways, it’s like the instructions you get on an airline flight: “Put on your mask first, then see to the child traveling with you.” We don’t do our kids any favors by jeopardizing our retirement security.
- Consider long-term care insurance: If you’re caring for aging parents, you may be acutely aware of the potential costs of long-term care. A long-term care insurance policy for you (which is less expensive if purchased while you are still relatively young and healthy) can help protect your retirement savings from these same costs.
- Involve your parents in planning: While it can be difficult to discuss financial planning with aging parents, it’s important to have these conversations sooner rather than later. Understanding their financial situation and wishes—while they can still communicate them clearly—can help you plan for potential costs and ensure their wishes are honored.
- Be strategic with college savings: If you’re also saving for your children’s college education, consider using tax-advantaged accounts such as 529 plans. Additionally, encourage your children to explore scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid to minimize their need for loans.
- Review and update your estate plan: As your family situation changes, it’s important to ensure your estate plan keeps up. Ensure that your will, power of attorney, and other documents reflect your current wishes. You should also review all the beneficiaries named in your documents and also in any life insurance policies, 401(k), 403(b), or IRA accounts, and annuities, to make certain that the money will go to the people you intend it for.
- Seek professional guidance: Working with a fiduciary financial advisor who places your best interests first can help you navigate these complex financial decisions and ensure that you’re on track to meet your goals.