The sandwich generation
How baby boomers can cope with unprecedented multigenerational responsibilities
By Susan Paprcka, for SBT
n. People who must care for both their children and their parents; people who have finished raising their children and now must take care of their aging parents.
Also: sandwiched generation.
n. People who provide care for their parents, children, and grandchildren.
(trademark, Carol Abaya, M.A.)
It’s a fact – people are living longer, healthier lives in the 21st century. And most people would agree that’s good news. But the situation carries with it burdens that no other generation in years past has had to shoulder – multi-generational care responsibilities.
Due to increased longevity, middle-aged children today are the first to be living in an age where a three-, four- or even five-generation family is becoming the norm.
Many of those "boomers" who have spent their careers working hard and envisioning a restful retirement are finding themselves caught in a "sandwich" or "club-sandwich generation," with responsibility for their children, step-children, parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so on.
Add to the mix the stress of the recent unstable stock market, rising health care costs and rising educational costs, and you have the recipe for a very anxious generation – not only regarding those they must care for, but concerning their own futures, as well.
"This generation is extremely time-stressed," says Will Ruch, managing partner and CEO of Versant Solutions, Milwaukee. "They’re searching for anything that will give them a feeling of relief and a sense of efficiency."
According to Ruch, who also feels the squeeze of the "sandwich generation" with four children under age 15 and an aging parent to care for, baby boomers seek strong relationships and long-lasting value.
"They often think of themselves as ‘too young to be old,’" he says. "And they spend a huge amount of resources on denying that they’re aging."
Old talk, new resources
According to estimates, there are approximately 78 million baby boomers in the US, described as born between 1946 and 1964. Studies reveal that women, especially daughters and daughters-in-law, comprise 85% of people who are taking care of an elderly relative. American women average 17 years caring for children and can expect to devote 18 years to taking care of an elderly parent. And nearly 40% of such women do so while maintaining a full-time job.
"One of the challenges is that people are living longer with more chronic illness," according to Phyllis Mensh Brostoff, co-founder of Stowell Associates/SelectStaff in Shorewood.
Brostoff’s company provides a combination of professional care management and paraprofessional caregiving services to the elderly and their families.
Founded in 1983 with partner Valerie Stefanich, Stowell Associates was the first private professional geriatric care management company in Wisconsin and one of the first in the country. In 1996, SelectStaff (www.elderselectstaff.com) was incorporated to provide paraprofessional caregivers to elderly and disabled adult clients and their families.
"We saw a need for people who could afford quality personalized care-giving services," says Brostoff. "And our care managers help families with difficult decisions when they might not no where to turn."
Stowell Associates assists families with how to appropriately care for an aging loved one, addressing such questions as: Should they be driving? Can they cook for themselves? And, are they safe living alone? The company conducts assessments of individual situations using both formal tools and informal observations.
Both Brostoff and Stefanich were co-founders of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and are currently board members. Brostoff also co-authored a book, Old Talk New Conversations: A Planning Guide for Seniors and Their Families (Elton-Wolf Publishing), which was a collaboration of five local experts in the field that included Brostoff, Matt Furno, John Herbers, Paula Hogan and Steven Koppel.
The book is an attempt to help readers think about and prepare for the day-to-day realities of aging, and is designed to facilitate conversations between older people and their families so that comprehensive planning and informed decisions will ensure the best quality of life possible.
"The keys to enjoying later life are understanding and planning for what lies ahead," says Hannah Rosenthal, regional director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who wrote the forward for the book. "It is never too late – or too soon – to begin. Being prepared and talking frankly can help ensure that as you age you are enjoying the best quality of life possible."
Old Talk New Conversations focuses on five key areas related to getting older. Hogan, a financial planner, addresses the financial implications of retirement and post-retirement living.
Herbers, an attorney, covers legal issues related to estate planning and asset transfer.
Koppel, an insurance agent, looks at long-term care insurance and other alternatives to address the costs of long-term health care.
Brostoff, a geriatric social worker, examines home care options and alternatives.
Furno, a licensed nursing home administrator, explores the purposes and functions of senior living.
Brostoff also believes in continuous learning for aging loved ones, and highly recommends the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Guild for Learning in Retirement.
"This is an excellent program where elderly people can both continue learning and socialize," she says.
The Guild for Learning is a combination of lectures and short courses based on broad-ranging topics. There are also Peer-Directed Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that meet regularly for study and spirited exchanges. Founded in 1982, the Guild is described as a growing association of older adults interested in lifelong learning and cultural enrichment.
From the baby boomers’ personal and professional perspective, Brostoff adds that small-business owners in this generation, in particular, need to consider the many facets of succession planning; figure out who is going to take over the business and how much money they will need to continue to draw from the company.
"The challenge is deciding at what point they can see themselves as separate from the business," she says. "Which is very difficult for business owners who have many times spent so much time with the business that they’ve had time for little else."
Aside from dealing with the financial aspects of succession planning, there are many personal considerations as well that need to be realized.
"Small-business owners planning their retirement need to do more than just plan financially, they need to discover something outside of the business that can give them the same level of satisfaction. This in itself could be a challenge."
June 13, 2003, Small Business Times, Milwaukee