Welcome back for Part 2 of Women in the Sandwich Generation!
Caring for your parents
Talk to your parents about their financial resources. Do they have retirement income? Long-term care insurance? Do they own their home? Learn the whereabouts of all their documents and accounts, as well as the financial professionals and friends they rely on for advice and support.
Much depends on whether your parent is living with you or out of town. If your parent lives a distance away, you'll have to monitor his or her welfare from afar--a challenging task. According to the National Institute on Aging, about 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers. Though caregiving can be a major stress on anyone, distance can magnify it—daily phone calls or video chats might not be enough, and traveling to your parent's home can be expensive and difficult to manage with your work and family responsibilities.
If your parent's needs are great enough, you may want to consider hiring a geriatric care manager, who can help oversee your parent's care and direct you to the right community resources, and/or a home health aide, who can check in on your parent during the week. Here are some things you should do:
• Take inventory of your parent's assets and consolidate his or her financial accounts.
• Get a current list of the medicines your parent takes and the doctors he or she sees.
• Have your parent establish a durable power of attorney and health-care directive, which gives you legal authority to handle financial and health-care decisions if your parent becomes incapacitated. And make sure your parent has a will.
• Consider consulting a tax professional to see if you might be entitled to potential tax benefits as a result of your caregiving; for example, you might be able to claim your parent as a dependent.
• If your parent's needs are great enough, you might need to go a step further and explore assisted-living options or nursing homes.
Eventually, you might decide that your parent needs to move in with you. In that case, here are some suggestions to make that transition:
• Talk with your parent in advance about both of your expectations and concerns.
• If possible, set up a separate room and phone for your parent for some space and privacy.
• Research local programs to see what resources are offered for seniors; for example, the senior center may offer social gatherings or adult day care that can give you a much needed break.
• Ask and expect adult siblings to help out. Siblings who may live far away and can't help out physically on a regular basis, for example, can make a financial contribution that can help you hire assistance. They can also research assisted-living or nursing home options. Don't try to do everything yourself.
• Keep the lines of communication open, which can go a long way to the smooth running of your multigenerational family.
Meeting the needs of your children
Your children may be feeling the effect of your situation more than you think, especially if they are teenagers. At a time when they still need your patience and attention, you may be preoccupied with your parent's care, meeting your work deadlines, and juggling your financial obligations. Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to balance your family's needs:
• Explain what changes may come about as you begin caring for your parent. Talk honestly about the pros and cons of having a grandparent in the house, and be sympathetic and supportive of your children (and your spouse) as they try to adjust.
Ask them to take responsibility for certain chores, but don't expect them to be the main caregivers.
• Discuss college plans. Encourage realistic expectations about the college they may be able to attend. Your kids may have to settle for less than they wanted, or at least get a job to help meet costs.
• Teach your kids how to spend wisely and set financial priorities.
• Try to build in some special time with your children doing an activity they enjoy.
• If you have "boomerang children" who've returned home, make sure to share your expectations with them, too. Expect help with chores (above and beyond their own laundry and meal prep), occasional simple caregiving, and a financial contribution to monthly household expenses.
Considering your needs
This stage of your life could last many years, or just a few. Try to pace yourself so you can make it for the long haul. As much as you can, try to get adequate sleep, eat nutritiously, and exercise--all things that will increase your ability to cope. Don't feel guilty about taking time for yourself when you need it, whether it's a couple of hours holed up with a book or out to the movies, or a longer weekend getaway. When you put your own needs first occasionally and look after yourself, you'll be in a better position to care for those around you.
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