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Caring for your parents, your children and yourself

Are you struggling to get your kids through school, but also faced with the financial and emotional task of caring for your ageing parents? You are not alone. This condition has become so common that a term has been coined for it: you are a part of the sandwich generation, feeling the pressure of commitment to the generations above and below you.

And never mind your commitment to others, many in the sandwich generation are also sacrificing their own savings and retirement plans to take care of everyone else perpetuating the sandwich cycle.

There is, unfortunately, no quick fix for people in this position. But there are some approaches that could help you to make the most of a difficult situation.

Have a serious discussion with everyone involved
When it becomes obvious that your parents will soon be in need of help, hold a meeting with any siblings or other family members to discuss the difficulties and possible solutions. Come to the meeting with a clear idea of what you are willing to do and try to think of realistic solutions to the problems that you're faced with. Don't do or agree to anything with the expectation of payback or recognition; if you want something in return, say so.

Tally assets and expenses
As cold-hearted and clinical as it sounds, you'll need to get a good idea of what your parent or parents are worth and of their month-to-month living expenses. This will help you to plan for their care and to work out what can be done for them. For instance, if they sell their house, will the proceeds be enough for you to build a new bedroom or cottage on your property? Look into any other assets they have, and find out about any policies or investments that could help in any way.

Help your parent to get an income
Depending on how old or capable your parent is, there might be a way for them to earn an income with your support. Perhaps your mom could start cooking birthday cakes for kids at your children's school or get a half-day receptionist job at your doctor's offices. If your dad's a handyman, he could do odd jobs in the neighbourhood, or if there is enough money to set him up, perhaps he could open a small framing business.

Get help from everyone
When your parents' care is starting to cost you significant money and time, approach your siblings and any other family members that could help out. Discuss the reality of the situation although you should keep them up to date all along and get them to commit to what they can contribute. It's never easy asking for money, but this financial burden shouldn't be yours alone.

Look after yourself
It is absolutely critical that you don't sacrifice your own future while looking after the other generations. Make sure that you keep making realistic contributions to your retirement fund, and don't eat into all your savings. Let everyone know that there's not enough money to go around. Your children can take out student loans, if need be, and your parents can sell assets or find ways to support you while you earn the money that keeps you all afloat.

Give yourself a break
Acknowledge that you are not a superhero and that you sometimes need help and support. Take an evening off, catch up with some friends, go out for a movie or have a treatment at a spa. You are the glue that's holding the family together, and if you are too stressed, it just won't stick.

It can be easy to get bogged down in the admin and difficulties of caring for ageing parents. But it's also important to remember that these are the last years that you will have with them. While it's not easy, try to treasure this time and to show your children compassion and empathy for the elderly, because one day, you will be in the same position.

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