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Stuck in the Middle with You

The new rules of the "sandwich generation" can mean making decisions for your aging parents and meeting new demands on your time.
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WebMD Feature

If you’re caring for an elderly parent -- or parents -- and your own children at the same time, you’re probably overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled, and exhausted. You’re also part of a growing cultural phenomenonknown asthe “sandwich generation.”

As today’s parents have children later in life, it often means that their childrearing and other family responsibilities collide head-on with the growing needs of aging parents.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 44% of Americans between the ages of 45 and 55 are “sandwiched” between aging parents or in-laws, and their own children under the age of 21. Most of them have both elder care responsibilities and children still living at home.

If you’re part of the sandwich generation, how do you cope? The good news: It can be done. In fact, the AARP survey finds that 87% of sandwich generation adults are either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their lives. Few -- just 4% -- regard their “sandwich” families as a burden, and two out of three believe they’ve done better at caring for their parents than their parents would have expected.

The bad news: Almost half still worry that they should be doing more.

But whether you’re solidly in the middle of the “sandwich” trying to cope, or looking down the road at decisions that loom ahead, there are steps you can take now to avoid being torn between competing demands. The first step, experts say, is to be researching, asking questions and laying the groundwork for what’s to come.

Planning Ahead

Caring for an elderly parent is never easy -- emotionally, financially or logistically. But it’s infinitely harder when you are forced to react to emergencies without advance notice. Too many families don’t talk about things like power of attorney, living wills, advance directives and who should live where -- until a crisis hits.

“The elderly do not plan for getting old. They often don’t have anyone who can handle their finances and make medical decisions for them,” says Carol Abaya, founder and publisher of the elder care web site, The Sandwich Generation (www.sandwichgeneration.com). Abaya was faced with just such a situation when her father died and she began caring for her mother. “I had no legal authority to do anything for her, yet I had to take over her business and running her finances.”

“It’s so much easier to have these discussions before there is a consequence. It’s easier to talk about health when everybody’s healthy,” says Barbara Friesner, a generational coach and the founder of AgeWise Living (www.agewiseliving.com). “Then you can start working things out, so that they are fair and livable for everyone.”

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