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As life expectancies increase, more and more people are finding themselves both caring for elderly parents while at the same time supporting adult children who are still living at home or require financial assistance even though they live elsewhere.
This situation was first coined the “Sandwich Generation” by sociologist Dorothy Miller in 1981, and in the nearly three and a half decades since then, the situation has increased dramatically. The Pew Research Center estimates that about 15% of people in their 40s and 50s are caring for both aging parents and children at the same time.
In some respects, the Sandwich Generation is brought about by the good news that people are living longer. However, we also know that as people live longer, they tend to develop more health problems, including cancer. Given both the increase in life expectancy and the increasing number of cancer cases around the world, especially in developing countries, it seems likely that more and more people are going to feel the pressures of caring for both parents and children as they enter middle age.
Given these facts, here are some ways that those who are part of the Sandwich Generation can cope with the emotional and financial tolls that caring for multiple generations can cause.
It’s not always easy to talk about money, especially with your parents or children; however, avoiding discussions about the family’s financial situation can also lead to misunderstandings, mistrust, and even resentment. Discussing financial issues together can help make sure the entire family feels like they are contributing to solutions.
Here are some of the financial topics to discuss with your family when caring for multiple generations:
- Ways the family can avoid going into medical debt
- Managing the unexpected costs of cancer
- Ensuring each family member is covered under the best insurance plan
- The benefits and sacrifices of pursuing secondary incomes
The needs of every individual are different. Some people might need help with things like taking medications, transportation to appointments, or even everyday activities like preparing meals. In these cases, individual caregivers should not try to do everything on their own. Rely on other members of the family to help out.
For example, teenage or young adult children who have their driver’s licenses can help take grandparents to appointments, or run errands such as grocery shopping. Likewise, elderly family members might be able to watch younger children for short periods of time so that caregivers can run errands or get some much-needed time to take care of themselves.
Counting on each family member to help provide care, rather than having one person care for everyone in the household, can build compassion and even bring multiple generations of the family together in a way they never experienced before.
Communicate Clearly and Regularly
Communication is a key component of any relationship, and it’s even more important when taking care of multiple generations in the same home. Some of the ways to communicate regularly include:
- Set aside times for family activities, such as meals or entertainment, when you can simply enjoy being a family together
- Establish a calendar that’s visible to everyone to help with scheduling appointments, meetings, and trips
- Define expectations around chores and responsibilities so that everyone is aware of what needs to be done
- Provide a way for everyone to offer feedback about the struggles they experience and their feelings about the situation they are in
- Talk to your children about cancer and other health issues to make sure they understand the struggles other family members are facing
Regular communication will help make sure everyone is on the same page and give everyone a voice in the ongoing care of the home.
Reach Out for Help
It can be hard to admit that you can’t do everything on your own, but sometimes the best choice is getting outside help. Such help can come in many forms, including:
- Visiting medical professionals or caregivers
- Meal planning and preparation
- Financial assistance
- Residential facilities
- Legal counsel
Regardless of the type of help you need, it’s important to remember that asking for help is part of providing adequate care for your family. Nobody is expected to be able to know and do everything. Sometimes asking others to step in is the best thing to do.
The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans. PEW Research Center Web site. Published Jan. 13, 2013. Accessed July 20, 2015.
Cancer Cases Rising At An Alarming Rate Worldwide. NPR Web site. Published Feb. 4, 2014. Accessed July 20, 2015.
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