We are Family

Tips to find balance when you’re raising kids and helping aging parents.

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By Julie Kendrick • Photos by Doug Scaletta

Whom do you think needs your help–this minute, later today or next week? If the answer includes a combination of "my parent," "my child" or even "my grandparent," welcome to the Sandwich Generation, those who have a living parent age 65 or older and who either are raising a child or supporting a grown child. With kids on the bottom and parents stacked on top, these "family sandwiches" often come with a side order of rising stress, conflicting commitments and increasing financial worries. It often can't be helped: Even if your kids are self-sufficient and your parents take very good care of themselves, there is still a sense of responsibility you can feel as you help your kids grow and watch your parents age. Here are some helpful tips for managing it all as you balance everyone's needs, including your own.

Be realistic

Loriana and Anthony De Paz, Thrivent members in Tampa, Florida, refer to their multi-generational family situation as a double-decker sandwich. Daughter Elizabeth, 18, is off to her first year of college, and they’re home with 13-year-old Olivia, while running their own small business. Not to mention, Loriana also works part time for their church. They’re also providing support to both sets of parents, a grandfather and an elderly aunt. “Our parents have done so much for us,” Loriana says. “It’s important to take care of them as much as we can. We have not had to help with their medical bills yet, but we’re aware that time is coming.”

Before you decide what kind of financial assistance you can provide to others in your extended family, you should assess your own situation to get a clear idea of your cash flow needs and retirement goals. This will help you establish boundaries between what you want to do and what you’re able to do for others.

The De Paz family knows that it’s important they stay focused on the financial goals they’ve set for themselves. So they’re diligent about keeping to their plans for savings and expenses, both small and big, like college for their kids. While they once were happy just to have a $1,000 emergency fund, they now have been able to put money toward investments they had never made before, such as life insurance and an IRA. Thrivent Financial Professional Jimmy Moore in Brandon, Florida, has helped them achieve their personal goals while also figuring out how they can best support their parents and other aging relatives.

Have a frank discussion

Moore suggests sandwiched families have a talk to get a clear view of the dependent parents’ total financial picture, from expenses to sources of income, investment accounts, beneficiary designations and insurance. You also want to find out what legal documents they have in place, such as wills, trusts and health care directives. While important, these discussions can be difficult.

“Tough conversations with your parents might begin with acknowledging that one parent is going to outlive the other,” Moore says. “So there needs to be a discussion about financial and logistical issues surrounding that event. He also recommends families discuss how they hope to cover any assisted living costs or in-home nursing care.

If parental finances are limited, Moore suggests extending those conversations to include siblings and extended family members. Asking others to pitch in on care can be a challenge, he says. “Most siblings have their own idea about who will take care of what, whether it be financial or giving actual care to a parent. But until a plan is assembled with everyone’s input, you could be setting up yourself for inner family strife.” You also should contact your county social services office to obtain information on the services and programs that may be available.

Use tools

You don’t want to use your retirement savings to support your kids or your parents. That could put your own retirement future in jeopardy, and once you’re in retirement, you no longer have an income source to replenish those dollars. You also sacrifice any tax-deferred growth that those retirement assets might have generated.

Loriana and Anthony have used a 529 college savings plan to put money aside for their older child, who started college this year. The plan offers tax-deferred growth and federal income tax-free withdrawals (to the extent the funds are used to pay qualified education expenses). “We didn’t always have the funds to contribute, but we’re glad that we did so when we could because now it’s covering a portion of Elizabeth’s dorm costs.”

The family also has used a flexible spending account (FSA) to help with major health care expenses like braces. It lets you pay for eligible out-of-pocket medical care costs with pre-tax dollars.

Even something as simple as envelopes can help you manage your money. “My husband and I create a weekly budget that includes setting aside money toward our emergency fund, travel, kids’ college and upcoming expenses,” Loriana says. “We set some money aside in a ‘miscellaneous’ envelope. The kids have learned that once that envelope is empty, there is no more money to spend that week.”

Strive for balance

Jodie and Andy Lamon, along with sons Greg, 17, and Thomas, 15, recently moved to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to be closer to both of their families. Andy’s parents are in their 70s and Jodie’s are in their 80s. Andy, who was the pastor of a church in Georgia, left his congregation and now works in the family business, a jewelry store.

From the beginning, they were clear that they needed to set healthy boundaries to help them create balance in their lives. Jodie says she’s been purposeful about scheduling time with parents, time together as a couple and time with the children. And they’re working to set financial goals with their sons. Vann Doubleday, a Thrivent Financial professional in Savannah, Georgia, helped the family.

“In addition to the major educational expenses we have coming up, we also want to have the resources available to take vacations and to invest in ministries we want to support,” Andy says. They work hard to live lean. “We live on less, which we hope will allow us to invest more in God’s kingdom.”

Stay strong

Experts who work with people experiencing this pulled-in-all-directions challenge offer some sound advice.

“I try to normalize this ‘sandwich generation’ situation for clients, because a lot of people are going through the same thing,” says Thrivent member Tim Kemnitz, a pastor at Mount Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, and counselor at Wisconsin Lutheran Child and Family Service’s satellite branch in Germantown, Wisconsin. He urges clients to keep the faith. “We want to take good care of our faith, so that it can take good care of us when that faith is tested.”

Thrivent member Ed Melinat is a marriage, family and child counselor at Hope Counseling Center of Silicon Valley, in San Jose, California. “It’s important to be realistic that this ‘toil and trouble’ are part of life,” he says. “Peace is arrived at by having a relationship with God in the midst of turmoil.” Melinat urges those feeling stressed to reach out for help.
“No one can do this alone.”

Julie Kendrick is a writer in Minneapolis.

How Thrivent Can Help

If you’re helping aging parents while still raising a child or supporting a grown child, your Thrivent Financial professional can help you navigate the challenges.

In addition, Thrivent offers several workshops* that cover timely financial topics and concerns. They include:

  • Heart to Heart: Conversations Around Aging
  • Provides tips for planning for changes and starting healthy conversations with family members.
  • Parents, Kids and Money Matters® Offers fun tools for talking with kids ages 6 to 10 about spending influences and share, save and spend options.
  • Parents, Teens and Money Matters® Helps parents talk to kids ages 11 to 14 about influences, money choices and responsible money habits.

Learn more about the opportunities at MoreThanMoneyMatters.com.