Baby granddaughter walking with her grandparents on a nature path

Caught Between Aging Parents and Adult Children

A lovely new assisted living complex is under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it has become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.

Baby granddaughter walking with her grandparents on a nature path

If you’re 40 or older, you’re part of the Sandwich Generation, which refers to middle-aged individuals who feel pressured to support both aging parents and adult children. You likely fall into one of these categories:

Traditional sandwich

Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses, and careers.

Club sandwich

Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

Double stuff sandwich

 Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the “boomerangs” (see Life in a Crowded Nest).

Open face sandwich

Anyone else involved in elder care on one side and others in need of support on the other.


Of my husband’s and my friends, I would estimate that at least half are either caring for elderly parents or supporting adult children and grandchildren—and in most cases, some or all have actually moved in with them, taking up permanent residence.

Surveys suggest that today’s Baby Boomers (adults born between 1946 and 1965) likely will spend more years caring for a parent than they will spend rearing, caring for and supporting their own children. And these days parents care for their children for at least 20 years.

In the same way a trip to the dental hygienist can prevent a painful procedure down the road, a conversation with your parents about aging will be worth it to help preserve a future you both can handle. The longer you wait to talk with them about the future, the fewer choices you may have down the line and the more it may cost to make sure they get the care they need.

The way you approach the subject will have a huge effect on whether your parents are willing to accept your help. Here are a few guidelines to help you get this conversation started:

Listen

Don’t miss an opportunity to talk about the future. Listen to your parents and ask questions. Avoid telling them what to do, no matter how tempting it may be. Get the conversation going earlier than later.

Patience

Your parents have been biting their collective tongue for all these years as they have dealt with you. Now it’s your turn to be patient and give them time to think over their alternatives. Major decisions won’t get made during one casual phone call.

Expect silence

Don’t expect quick responses to your questions. This may be one of the most difficult seasons of their lives. Give them time to process, to think and ponder.

Don’t assume

Don’t make assumptions. Above all, do not mistake indecision for lack of interest. I think you can be fairly certain that they’ve been thinking about this a lot longer than you have. But it’s easy to put it off when the future appears to be so far away.

Get help

It’s all right if you don’t know what you’re doing. Your willingness to assist your parents is a big step. Dare to ask for help.

Laugh

Don’t lose your sense of humor. It will keep you happy and sane in the years to come.

Question: Are you part of the sandwich generation?


You may also enjoy:

In Love, It’s Not Easy to Talk About Money

Paycheck 101: A College Grad’s Guide for How to Manage an Income

A Money Lesson for Kids

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16 replies
  1. Kay Jones
    Kay Jones says:

    I would suggest researching local groups for some hints. AARP has seminars open to both seniors and their children. As a 75 year old, I find it sad that older people don’t initiate this conversation with their children. We have been aware for years that this was an issue that needed to be addressed. One of the things I miss in retirement is mixing with people of different ages and backgrounds. Every day there is something to learn and possibly teach.

    Reply
  2. Pamela Martin
    Pamela Martin says:

    I generally find posts to be really helpful and look forward to reading and leaning. I was disappointed with this. I expected concrete information, like financial issues we should cover, etc. As someone dealing with this, the “information” given today seems to be just barely a starting point to dealing with the financial and logistical issues that face those of us in this position. If you are going to provide guidelines, please make them more meaningful.

    Reply
    • Reed ND Dark
      Reed ND Dark says:

      I too though there would be more. Other discussions about how to not help those who will not budget or will not distinguish needs from wants I expected in the links. But if you look at the headings this topic is about how to start talking about hard things, not really about how to solve the problems.

      Having said all that I’m not sure there is much that is universal. Of course spending your own security for the security of others is a topic worth considering. How to find resources for the special needs of the aging is as important as dealing with boomerang kids who are actively not unemployed amounts to the problem that they cannot make enough to support themselves. And then there are special needs kids that must be provided for after our own deaths.

      Reply
  3. SewMoomz
    SewMoomz says:

    I think the tips and guidelines about having the conversation with your parents are very helpful and eminently practical. Thanks for putting them together in a list. Some of them are so obvious we forget we need to practice them consciously. I wish my adult children were reading them!

    Reply
  4. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    I envy anyone with reasonable aging parents. They should have to deal with my mother. I just hope I will be more cooperative with my own kids and not be the burden she has turned out to be. This entire saga of life just infuriates me to no end on a constant daily basis.

    Reply
    • Kay Jones
      Kay Jones says:

      That is the gift you will give your children. Talk to them now and keep talking as your situation changes over the years.

      Reply
    • Lois Pepple
      Lois Pepple says:

      Bonnie, I understand totally. My hubby’s mother spent the last 15-18 years of her life becoming more and more dependent on us, less willing to meet her own needs, and even less willing to discuss with us, or with anyone, her increasing need for help, and her desire to not live alone, and her real options. When my father in law was living, neither would discuss any plans for what was to happen when they were no longer able to care for themselves. They ended up unsafe at home when he entered late stage alzheimers; and remained that way until he took a his last fall at home, breaking a hip. Medical providers told her that he could no longer live at home. He ended up in group home memory care for the last 6 months of his life.
      She lived another 7 years, becoming more bitter every day. She wanted family members to move into her home and help her. This was not possible. She became more dependent, more depressed, and more bitter. She lived a lonely life, especially the last 4-5 years, after she could no longer drive. But still she would not entertain discussion about leaving the home she had lived in for over 50 years. Even amidst daily complaints of loneliness, she would never engage in discussion about moving to a place where she could enjoy community and have all the help she would need.
      She was frustrating indeed. Eventually her heart and kidney diseases took her to the place where she had to choose dialysis or hospice. She had previously turned down dialysis, never understanding that she might gain energy and feel better if she would try it. But even during this final stage of life, after being told she had days to live, she immediately denied the need to choose one or the other. Finally, between input from her pastor, her doctor, and a good friend, she decided to accept hospice care. She passed away about 5 days later, at home, just as she had wanted.
      We were grateful that she passed as she had wanted to, at her home. However, we often think about the community, and the richness she could have chosen during her final years. We’ve come to the conclusion that her neediness became more important, and more necessary to her, than any new friendship or new lifestyle, or new joy could have been. We don’t know why that was so. And we are sad for her. She lived so unhappily in the later years of her life. But she seemed to believe that she had no control over that. How sad.

      Reply
  5. JGM
    JGM says:

    My challenge is my parents have extremely limited financial resources They are in their early 80s and each beginning to deal with health issues. While they are blessed to have no debt, their savings are meager and have very little extra money at the end of each month. My siblings and I foresee a time when we will be financially supporting them.

    Reply
    • tboofy
      tboofy says:

      Medicaid is available to cover a lot of things Medicare doesn’t. My dad had a stroke and is in a care center, and Medicaid has been a godsend in a place that would normally cost $4,000+ a month.

      Reply
  6. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    Mom’s 88, diagnosed with multiple myeloma last June followed by kidneys shutting down. Dialysis 3X week, chemo 1X (if her numbers are good), at least one other Dr. appointment 1X week, stomach/hernia surgery in March, add in shopping and house care…grandchildren who are still growing up and need some looking after…try to fit in your own needs with a loving spouse who just retired. All our lives have changed. This is our “normal”. Some days are harder than others. We accept the hard days so we can enjoy the good times. Put together a team. A team of caring doctors and nurses. Call catholic charities to find out what your parent qualifies for. (Mom got a life alert). Talk to your parent’s neighbors, exchange phone numbers. My mom is stubborn. Refused to have strangers come in to help. Ugh. Have I gotten overwhelmed and angry at times? Yes. Have I cried going home because I’m so worried about her? Yes. Have I had to remind myself that she is the parent and not me? Yes. Have I learned to accept what will be will be. No. Lol. But still trying. Are there people going through worse things at this moment than us? Yes. And that is why every day I am grateful for what we have. Head up buttercup and put your big girl panties on. You got this. And in the end, you can be proud of how you fought.

    Reply
  7. txcharley .
    txcharley . says:

    My Father suffered a medical emergency which left him unable to live alone when my daughter was 7 months pregnant. I spent the next 14 months alternating between caring for my Father and my newborn granddaughter. He died on her first birthday and I still try to figure out how I could have handled it all better.

    Reply
    • Kay Jones
      Kay Jones says:

      Quit second guessing yourself, please. You made decisions on the information and resources you had at the time. You can’t change any of that but you can enjoy your granddaughter. Life if truly for the living and we honor those we have lost by living each day to it’s fullest.

      Reply
  8. Sanddra
    Sanddra says:

    Easy enough to rehash the same old same old but when one is in the trenches such “advice” is lame. At best. I’ve been there, am there again and help is non-existent in rural areas. There is **nothing** available…no senior center, no household help, no driving help, no meals on wheels…**nothing**. My advice is simply do the best you can and let happen what happens. You can’t force elderly parents to do anything and to try is to make life hell for everyone.

    Reply
  9. Luisa
    Luisa says:

    I understand some of what some of you are going through, as my mom has dementia and my dad has denial. I tried to talk to them 15 years ago when it became apparent to me that she was struggling. They got very angry with me and cut off contact for a while. Rather than back me with what they saw also, and try to get through an uncomfortable but ultimately helpful process, my brother and sister sat back and basically implied that the problem was mine.

    Eventually there was a crisis and my mom wound up in a psych ward for a short time. It was traumatic, but it forced my family to look at the problem for a while at least. If my father could admit that his beloved wife is seriously ill, she could benefit from some current medical options, but I think he thinks he’s protecting her by trying to keep her deterioration secret. It’s tragic that his denial is worsening her condition, but I finally had to say that it’s their life and only they can decide how to live it. I’ve now chosen to be a part of this sad situation and be allowed to be around my mom a couple of times a year than have him feel threatened and keep me away from her completely.

    Reply
  10. Michelle Adams
    Michelle Adams says:

    My husband, daughter and I live in an in law apt attached to my mothers house and I was the sole caretaker for my mom when she was about 88, however those years were easy, as she was still able to get around in her wheel chair and use the bathroom by herself. As she got older, she became more dependent on me and totally immobile and we wanted her home. The last 1-1/2 years were the worst. Her dementia got worse and she was hospitalized 3 times for different things. (leaving us with 3000.00 in co-pays) After the 3rd hospitalization, the doctor suggested Hospice. As soon as I heard that I got scared, but after talking to her primary care and the hospice coordinator, I learned that hospice is not just end of life services, but a whole community of services and Medicaid covered it 100%. They provided a hospital bed, which was a godsend, a hospital chair, in home nurses music therapy, a chaplain or religious counsel, social worker, home health care workers, all kinds of supplies, etc… and peace of mind that I could call anytime and someone would come to help me if I needed it. I used these services along with our local Eldercare services and it made life easier and more enjoyable. If I had been more educated about this, I would’ve used Hospice much sooner. My mother passed in her own bed on 7/17/2019 at the age of 94. I miss her everyday, but I’m so happy I was able to make her life more comfortable with the help of my Family and the Hospice people we got to know!!

    Reply

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