Feeling the Squeeze

The Sandwich Generation

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Posted: Saturday, March 1, 2014 12:00 am

Life is busy in the Pierce household.

Three teenage girls keep things bustling with their school and extra- curricular activities while mom, Anne, operates a home-based business, freelances as a seamstress for a local company, and is the glue, along with her husband, that holds her family together. In January, the Pierce household grew. Anne’s mom, Ellie Zietz, 89, moved in with the family after doctors said she could no longer live on her own.

“She was not taking her medicine, eating properly and was very dehydrated. She fell in her backyard and could not get up. The temperatures were in the 40s, it was drizzling, and it was 10 hours before the neighbor found her. She got pneumonia,” Anne said. Ellie, who turns 90 in April, moved back and forth between the homes of her daughter and her son for several months before moving in permanently with Anne.

“Mom was used to being on her own and then had to live with someone. It was hard for her to give up her independence,” Anne said. “She doesn’t like change and regresses back to earlier times.

She wants simplicity and change is stressful for her.”

Once common back in the days when society revolved around agriculture, multigenerational families are now on the upswing because of tough economic times and a growing elderly population. A 2012 survey by PulteGroup, a national home builder, found that 32 percent of adult children expect to eventually share their house with a parent.

Behavioral Therapist Mary Greiner of Kempner said respecting and caring for elderly family members is a cultural feature. “Multi-generational families used to be the norm when we were an agricultural society. Adult children would never consider putting their parents in a nursing home,” Greiner said. “But adjustments have to be made when a child has to serve as the parent in many ways, such as ensuring that medication is being taken, bills are being paid, and those kinds of things.”

Those adjustments have been difficult for the entire Pierce family since Ellie moved into their home. Routines had to be changed, personal items had to be relocated, and Ellie had to adjust to living with three teenage girls.

“There is a huge generation gap since my mother is old enough to actually be my grandmother although she is my mother,” said Anne, who is in her mid-40s. “Mom thinks the girls are lazy. But things are done differently today than when she was growing up, totally different. Plus she has some dementia setting in.”

While Ellie’s presence helps the family look at things from a different perspective, Anne said having their grandmother in the house is almost overwhelming for the teens, ages 12, 14 and 16. “There’s a lot of drama among the girls. Because they are teenagers, there’s a lot of bickering, yelling, and door slamming,” Anne said. “Loud noises startle my mother. She will speak her mind and not always in the nicest way. I ask the girls to be understanding.” Anne, who runs a home-based business, has had a difficult time adjusting, as well.

Ellie needs almost constant care, most of which is provided by Anne. She likens it to role reversal, as she is now a mother to her own mother, taking care of her in every way from nursing care to laundry. Greiner said modifications have to be made on both sides of the multi-generational family and recommends discussing boundaries, rules and consequences with family members. “When operating as a family is used to, a homeostasis develops. When someone from the outside moves in, it is uncomfortable for all and a new homeostasis has to be created,” she said. Scot Hrbacek, financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments of Belton, said one in eight American families are now living multi-generationally. “We actually have a name for this. It is called the “sandwich generation” where the child is caring for a parent while raising children of their own,” he said.

Because financial concerns can contribute to the stress factors of multigenerational families, Hrbacek recommends families take four steps to plan financially for the scenario.

1. SAVE

“First, you have to take care of yourself so you can care for others. This is not meant to be selfish. But, you will be more financially able to care for others if you have planned already for your own needs,” Hrbacek said.

“Don’t derail your own financial planning. It may need to be modified or adjusted based on how much you are investing or saving, but you need to stay on track.”

2. TALK ABOUT FAMILY FINANCES

“People from the depression era or even their children are really hesitant to talk openly about finances. This sometimes leads to poor decisions being made based on misinformation,” Hrbacek said. “Ensure that parents share information about insurance and investment portfolios so that you know what you are working with.” It is important to have copies of parents’ wills, powers of attorney, and especially medical powers of attorney to allow parents’ final wishes to be fulfilled. “Even with my own parents, it was hard to get them to talk about their finances, very difficult. But now I am better prepared to make decision for my parents rather than trying to guess,” Hrbacek said.

3. SEEK EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

While many seniors are technologically savvyin researching this information, those whoare not can find great resources at their localsenior centers and the Area Agency on Agingof Central Texas, which can help navigatethe internet and assist in locating additionalfunds.“Laws are constantly changing withMedicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits,and the social security benefit,” Hrbaceksaid. “There is not a magic pill to find thisinformation out. You have to dig aroundand research it, but there is a lot of help outthere.”

4. DELEGATE TASKS-GET ASSISTANCE

The final steps in the planning process.“If you are the primary caretaker, don’tbe afraid to ask for help,” Hrbacek said.“Elderly parents can get help with finances,medical needs, insurance—lots of help isavailable to them.”Parents caring for grandparents of theirown children should ensure that respite careis available. Home care agencies can providethe highest level of nursing care in the home.“A lot of people want to care for their parents24 hours a day. But they just cannot do it forlong periods and help is available,” Hrbaceksaid.

Financially speaking, Anne Pierce’sfamily is fortunate. For more than 50 years,Ellie has lived off investments made by herlate husband who planned well financiallyfor their future.“She pays for her own medication andpays for the family’s groceries. So it is nota burden,” Anne said. However, had Anneknown early on that she’d be sharing her4-bedroom, 2,000 square feet home withEllie, she would have made other plans.“I would’ve bought a house with anadditional room. I want the kids to each havetheir own rooms, but once she moved in, twogirls had to double up,” she said.Despite the challenges, Anne said shewill never place her mother in a nursinghome and will relish the time they havetogether as she cares for her in their home.

“My mother is never a burden. She may get on my nerves sometimes, but she is never a burden,” Anne said.

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