No, I do not mean that you grew up liking sandwiches. The ‘sandwich generation’ is a growing demographic within the baby boomers (born 1947-1966) and they were the first to struggle with both the financial needs of kids in post-secondary education and retired parents.  While elderly people are benefiting from rising life expectancies, their children – often parents themselves – are ‘sandwiched’ in the middle, caring for two generations.  Today their kids may have finished college or university but many have moved back home due to financial difficulties. For the first time in history, many kids are competing with their parents for entry-level jobs.  Meanwhile, their aging parents may have outlived their retirement savings and not only be short on cash – they might also require a daily caregiver.

David Foot, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto says, “The people most likely to have dual obligations are around the age of 50 – the peak of the baby boomer generation.”

The number of Canadians over the age of 45 providing care for aging parents and other adults increased dramatically over a five-year period, according to a Statistics Canada study released in October 2008.

  • About 2.7 million Canadians provided unpaid care to people 65 and over with some form of long-term health problem in 2007, an increase of over 670,000 in 2002, the study says.

Projections show that by 2056, the proportion of Canadians age 65 or older will more than double, to over one in four; similarly, the proportion of people 80 and over will triple to about one in 10, says the study, taken from figures compiled during the 2007 General Social Survey (GSS) on Family, Social Support and Retirement.

According to the GSS, care giving is not just provided to seniors living in their own homes, but extends to those living in institutions and long-term-care facilities who still count on family and friends for help. In 2007, more than one in five unpaid caregivers provided care to seniors living in care facilities, the GSS said. About 43 percent of caregivers in the study were between ages 45 and 54.

In the US according to an AARP survey, some 35% of boomers have been responsible for the care of their elderly parents, up from 26% in 1998.  Meanwhile, half of boomers are still raising a young child, in some cases their grandchildren as well, or providing financial assistance to an adult child, according to Pew Research Centre.  So go ahead – just try to retire!

These obligations are not just expensive; they are time consuming, demanding and directly affect one’s ability to earn a living.  According to a Hartford survey:

  • 68% of boomers missed work in the last six months or left early due to care-giving duties for either a young child or an elderly parent
  • 50% of those who missed work for care-giving duties in the last six months missed between eight and sixteen hours
  • More than 75% of boomers have taken as much as sixteen hours of paid vacation time to care for a child or parent
  • 47% of young boomers worry about how their care-giving duties affect their performance at work
  • The # 1 concern of older boomers as it relates to care-giving is that their duties will force them to postpone retirement

I consulted a well-known private practice therapist, Heidi Cowie, RSW to find out her thoughts on this growing trend.

“Care-giving for family members creates a unique sort of stress. There is an emotional and psychological thread that knits together the family member and the Caregiver. We may feel fear, anger, and guilt when we are trying to balance our lives with our perceived obligation to family. I say, “perceived” because often we think or feel that we have a moral obligation or duty to care for our family. We struggle to balance our feelings of helping lovingly, versus helping to avoid feeling guilty. This dichotomy between “want” and “should” is the perfect breeding ground for constant emotional stress.” or

Knowing all of this, here are just a few courageous questions you need to have answers for, to help if you end up becoming part of the ‘sandwich generation’:

  • If you are responsible for looking after your elderly parents, have you made sure there is sufficient life insurance in place, in addition to what you have provided for your family, to care for them after you are gone?
  • Have you talked to your parents about what plans they have put in place if they were to become critically ill or require long term care?
  • Do you know if your parents have recently reviewed their wills and pre-estate documents for financial and health matters to make sure they are up-to-date?
  • Do you know what your employers policy is in relation to the demands you might potentially face?
  • Do you know where to get help for yourself if you become overwhelmed by the support that you might be required to provide?

Caring for a loved one is the greatest gift of love one can provide but you have to make sure you have the right plans and support in place to take care of yourself first, in order to be able to provide this gift. To find out more personal and financial planning tips about this subject and other issues, you can order my book WITH THE [STROKE] OF A PEN®, Claim your life and the companion comprehensive planning binder here.