It’s Not Just the “Sandwich Generation” – It’s a Triple-Decker

“Are you the ham in an intergenerational sandwich?”- Graphic by Amanda Sterczyk

Marlena is a 53-year-old professional who works out of her home office and provides care for her two octogenarian parents, whose health is rapidly declining. She is also a wife, and mom to two teenagers. When it comes to her parents, she often feels like she is taking care of toddlers again, as they spend most of the day complaining about being too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, bored, or in one way or another, uncomfortable. Besides the concern about going broke, the biggest challenge for Marlena is holding onto her patience.

Dealing with one aging parent is challenging enough, but, as you can see from Marlena’s situation, the emotional and financial stress can be more than double if you are caring for both parents at the same time (and maintaining your own busy life). In fact, according to a new study by Northwestern Mutual, 59% of Americans feel that taking care of two parents between ages 85 and 90 would be even harder than handling two kids between ages 3 and 5. Not to mention the financial burden. According to the most recent Pew Research on the Sandwich Generation, financial stress among 40-59 year olds is likely to increase the more people they help financially.

So, How Can She Cope?

Being financially strung between two generations may leave those in the “sandwich generation” feeling isolated. However, many other people are experiencing the same thing, struggling with the same obstacles, and coping with the same limitations. Below are 3 common stressful situations and a few coping techniques someone such as Marlena can use to maintain her sanity and financial security.

Concern: We make enough money to support my current household, but supporting my parents stretches us way too thin.

How to cope: Instead of trying to be super-parent and super-kid all at once, have a conversation with your parents and children about the financial constraints you are under. Make sure to be respectful and reassuring, but be honest about the joint financial implications supporting multiple generations have on your situation.

Concern: I spend a full work week at work and then another 40 or so hours taking care of my aging parents. I’m exhausted. I can’t leave Mom or Dad to their own devices, but I can’t cut back on my hours at work.

How to cope: Your first instinct as a child may be to drop everything and handle all your parents’ needs yourself. But if it comes at the cost of your own family and your own career, think about the ripple effects – on your retirement savings, on the needs of your own kids, even on your own sanity.

  1. Lean on your friends and family: Do you have siblings or cousins or independent aunts or uncles or neighbors or even older children who could help ease the burden? Even if they don’t have the flexibility to sit with your aging parents for hours, can they help in other ways? Laundry, food prep, and doctors visits are all areas that other people can help with, even if it’s just for an hour a week.
  2. Hire a case manager: Hire an Aging Life Care Expert to do the heavy lifting. For an hourly fee, these people can handle tasks quickly that it might take you hours to do – scheduling doctor’s appointments, handling medical payments, and dealing with insurance, helping find a good nursing home or in-home care. Spending this money may seem expensive, but it’s less than putting someone’s career on hold to become a full-time caregiver.
  3. Hire a private in-home caregiver: Consider hiring a private in-home caregiver, paid for of course by your parents. There are dozens of home health care agencies in the DC Metro area that you can find with a simple Google Search. Or use our Trusted Resources Page.

Concern: We have been saving for our retirement, and have just about/already reached our goal. However, we feel pressured to dip into our savings or divert our future savings in lieu of providing for our parents/children.

How to cope: It is important to remember to take care of yourself first, financially (as well as physically and mentally). If you are not financially secure, you cannot expect to take care of yourself and others. Know that you can provide support in non-monetary ways, which will often help ease the burden of your parents and children. While money is sometimes the only support they need, writing a blank check is not always the best solution.

In the situation of someone like Marlena in our example, it is prudent to be prepared, in case your parents need long-term care down the road. By being proactive and planning for long-term care in advance, you can help make sure your parents always receive the care they need without worry or financial struggle. You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches that adult children face when they are not prepared for their parent’s incapacity or ongoing care needs. Generally, the earlier someone plans for long-term care needs, the better.

But it is never too late to begin preparing. Even if your parents were already in a nursing home receiving long-term care, it would not be too late to do Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Talk About It With Family Members

With the holidays right around the corner, it is one of the few times of year when families tend to gather in one place. Sit down with your siblings to discuss your parents’ expectations. Read more about the “family meeting” and what to do if you and your siblings disagree in our recent article, “How to Survive Adult Sibling Conflict Over Elder Care, Inheritances, and More.”

Plan in Advance

Caring for kids and parents at the same time is extremely challenging. However, there are ways to work around the challenges. With a bit of planning, it can be done successfully. To do your own planning, or to help plan for the future needs of your parents, please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 301- 519-8041
DC Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.


  1. Ellen Fischler says

    Thanks, Evan. I’m in a triple decker myself and your graphic made me
    laugh, something I try to do as much as possible. The alternative is
    crying and, although I have plenty of reasons to cry, I believe that
    finding the humor in the everyday madness and chaos is the best way to cope!



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