This article addresses the Sandwich Generation – those adults with dependent children and increasingly dependent parents.
If we assume that parenting starts at age 25, you as a Sandwich Parent of 30, could have a 5 year old child, 55 year old parents and 80 year old grandparents. When you are 45 your child will be 20, your parents will be 70 and your grandparents could still be alive at 95.
Raising a child has never been easy. The demands made on school kids have increased exponentially, the pressures to fit in, to be part of the cool crowd are huge and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll are as great as they’ve ever been. You need to be there for your kids and you need to support them as they make their choices in life.
And here you are, faced with also having to care for an aging parent, or two, or three, or four! People are living longer — but not necessarily in good health. So their adult children may have to care for them for years.
It can be exceptionally difficult to have the “you are getting old” conversation with your parents. Most of us “oldies” are in some level of denial – we won’t get sick, we won’t get frail, we won’t fall. We don’t want to be a burden and when you call, we will be “fine”.
But it is a conversation that must be had – not just once, but over and over again – and the sooner it starts the better. If you wait until the situation is dire it can quickly degenerate into a battle of wills.
As your parents approach retirement is a good time to start the conversation. They are likely to be fairly healthy and they will have plans and things they want to do. If you are involved in the conversation about the fun side of their retirement it will be easier to initiate the “growing old” conversation.
So what do you need to discuss?
First is about letting go – of their career, perhaps some aspects of their current lifestyle, of some attitudes and beliefs that no longer serve them. Second is about an internal journey to discover who they are without their career and their status – who are they as a person? And third it’s about creating their best possible retirement.
That starts with a sense of purpose – retirement is a new opportunity, a chance to do something different. And to fulfil that new opportunity, they need to be healthy.
That means some exercise, nutritious food, 7 hours of sleep a night, plenty of water, managing their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar levels. And cutting down the bad stuff; alcohol, processed foods, fizzy drinks (and does it need to be said), smoking. And then, how are you going to help them stick to their good intentions?
Mentally, use it or lose it! What existing and new interests do they have, that will continue to challenge them? Reading, studying, debating, writing, painting, volunteering, mentoring? (And you need to watch for diabetes; it seems to be a big indicator for Alzheimers).
As important as their physical and mental health, is their social health. Are they maintaining friendships and creating new ones? Where are they going to live; at home, a retirement village, with you? Are they lonely? Are they supported by family – not just by you, but by more distant relatives? Are they clocking up the Skype and Facebook miles?
If you thought this was going to get easier – you have to talk about the money. You need to know if and when, it’s going to run out – and if it does, do they have a plan for creating a new source?
Then, to cap it all, you have to talk about how they want to die. Is their will and other paperwork in order, what are their passwords and access codes, what kind of funeral do they want? An advance directive (living will) should also be used to detail the types of care they want at the end of their life.
“I didn’t sign up for this” I hear you cry! It’s our revenge for all those sleepless nights when you were a baby, a child and a teenager.