Baby Boomers are often called the Sandwich Generation. They earned this moniker because they are often faced with caring not only for their children but their aging parents as well. I'd like to add another layer of cheese, tomato and lettuce, along with a slice of bread to this Sandwich, making Baby Boomers the new Club Sandwich Generation.
In this current economy, Generation X and Y children are moving back home in record numbers often with spouses and children in tow. Thus, Boomers are now often supporting three other generations not just two. What a fine development that has got us into!
One of my favorite clients is the classic Sandwich Generation. One aging mom needs financial support. Then her son came home with wife and two children. His predatory lender had persuaded him into buying a house far beyond his means. Do not just get a loan to buy the house, suggested the lender, get some extra money to buy some fun stuff too. Like a fool, that's just what he did. He came home to Mom and Dad, having lost his house, but also with two flat screen TV's and a boat in tow. Now his parents, who have worked and saved carefully all of their lives and looking forward to a peaceful retirement, have been invited by two extra adults and two babies, losing all privacy and guest rooms, with chaos and toys scattered everywhere.
Dreams of cozy retirements have been replaced by supporting multi-generational households. Money is very tight, tensions are high and there's not a lot of solutions out there.
Here's what I suggest: The new Mantra has to be: All able bodied adults must be pro active, not simply re active and sorry for themselves while they mooch off Mom and Dad. That includes adults kids who screwed up and need some help. Give them your very best advice, a shoulder to cry on, a temporary roof, maybe, but send them out to find another place to live as soon as possible.
Relieving them of the consequences of their bad behavior is co dependency and is not going to help your kids become responsible for their own lives. It actually further cripples their ability to learn from their mistakes and further diminishes their confidence. This is an easy pitfall for loving parents to fall into. Send them out to solve their own problems. They will be the better for it and so will you. It may be the best parenting you have ever done.
For those who have fallen on hard times, through no fault of their own, that is entirely another matter. This is what families are for. However, even under these circumstances, sympathetic and loving help is no substitute for pro active planning and strategies – not just sleeping on the sofa and waiting for the economy to improve. Loving help should never morph into co dependence.
For aging parents, it's a different story. They are not able bodied. They do need your help and you are obliged to do so. Even in this case, you must be realistic about what you can afford and what you can physically accomplish. You may not have the time, patience or physical strength to care for them. Do not be associated to ask for help. You will be amazed at how many services are available to you. You aging parents may have unrealistic expectations of what you can do for them. Dementia may also be involved and you might be in over your head.
There are plenty of senior service organizations out there who can help you. Contact your nearest Senior Community Services department in your town or city. They are a wealth of information and help.
In the olden days, families lived near and aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and families were there to offer help. Nowadays, we are often isolated and often feeling overwhelmed, if not downright invaded.
Becoming the Club Sandwich Generation may be a 21st century phenom, but that does not mean that you have to lose the quality of your own lives. Do you what you can, do what you must, but take care of yourselves too. If you do not, you will not be able to take care of anyone else anyway. Leave the club sandwich concept for the deli. It's not a very good model for living.