Guest Commentary

Too many bites: Managing the sandwich era of life


The average life expectancy in the United States is nearing 80 years old, and according to the most recent U.S. Census research, life expectancy is projected to increase to nearly 86 years over approximately the next 40 years.

At the same time, according to Pew Research Center, due to the rising cost of living as well as the lasting effects of COVID-19, young American adults are living with or financially dependent on their parents at rates that have not been recorded since the Great Depression.

What does this mean for adults who are roughly in their late-30s to their mid-50s?

As people are living longer and many young adults are struggling to gain financial independence, those stuck in the middle — commonly called Generation X plus an older Millennial sub-generation called Xennials — are now part of what is dubbed the “sandwich generation.”

In other words, these individuals are “sandwiched” between their own aging parents and their adult or soon-to-be adult children, often caring for both simultaneously. Pew estimates that right now more than half of Americans in that bracket are “sandwiched” to varying degrees.

Running a household, working full time, and maintaining some type of healthy balance can be hard enough without the added strain of managing the sandwich era of life.

Parenting both sides

While setting clear boundaries, charging for household expenses, and communicating a realistic timeframe for young adults in the home to establish financial independence are critical, things get a little bit trickier when it comes to caring for aging parents, especially as it becomes more difficult for them to care for themselves on their own.

The burdens of health care and other costs, helping with daily activities, overseeing supervision, legal considerations and other concerns can take a physical and emotional toll when dealing with an aging adult. Among the many challenges facing those with caregiving responsibilities are:

  •  Caregiver burnout and feelings of depression, guilt, and isolation.
  •  Finding the time to be a good spouse, parent, and child simultaneously.
  •  Trouble managing work, hobbies, relationships, and time for themselves.

While the to-do list when caring for an aging adult may seem endless, it is important to remember to take things one at a time. First, make sure that advance care planning, including advance directives, has been completed so you can advocate and make health care decisions for your loved ones, if necessary. Next, discuss, well in advance, how to deal with caregiving tasks that may exceed what the family can physically and financially provide.

How will you know when you can’t safely provide care? What will you do if/when that day comes? Also, it is important to meet with your financial advisor to go over all of the possible ramifications of this decision. Make sure your long-range financial plan can absorb the costs of care, or that you have taken advantage of ways to increase access to care.