The “Sandwich Generation on Wheels”
Are you a middle-aged adult who cares primarily for your elderly parent who lives hours away? As the baby boomer generation grows older, and mobility is on the rise, many individuals are finding themselves in this position. These long-distance caregivers usually work their own full-time jobs and care for their own families, but have the added stressful obligation to care for a far-away parent. Perhaps the parent is too sick, stubborn, or poor to move near their child. And the adult child has her own responsibilities at home that make a move for her impossible. These individuals are referred to as the “Sandwich Generation on Wheels.” As only 55% of the U.S. retiree generation has a child living within ten miles of them, these scenarios are becoming all too common, leading to increased stress for caregivers. Over a tenth of family caregivers reside at least an hour away from the elderly person who needs them. The caregiver feels “sandwiched” between the needs of the older and younger generation. Everyone needs her right now.
Being a member of this “sandwich” generation is the type of life event that, unplanned for, can lead to divorce. It adds stress and exhaustion to the caregiver’s already busy schedule. And spouses may not agree on how much care is really required or how it should be provided. But Open Palm Collaborative Life Planning can help. We deal with these types of common scenarios before they become a problem that leads to divorce. We open the lines of communication so that spouses get on the same page when these problems do arise and encourage them to work as a team, rather than against each other.
Open Palm Collaborative Life Planning
The process begins by you and your spouse identifying for whom you will likely (or already) need to care in the older generation. This list may include parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or really anyone in the older generation who depends on you. We encourage the couple to talk with the elderly folks now, and your other family members, to determine who is best to fill the role as the primary caregiver. Once decided, the elderly person may wish to update their Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Designations so that the primary caregiver may act when necessary.
Next, determine when travel to the person is acceptable, as you cannot be there all the time. What if there is an emergency? What if there is surgery? What about general medical appointments? Who will be responsible for paying for such travel, and how quickly will you be expected to arrive?
It is also important to consider your career. Does your employer offer medical leave? Or paid time off? Are there any requirements that you need to meet to entitle yourself to such programs? Will co-workers be willing and able to cover your work if you have to leave?
Finally, what about your caregiving responsibilities for your immediate family? Do you have young children? Is your spouse willing and able to provide care for them when you’re not around? Does his job allow it? Or is he gone a lot, and caregiving is more burdensome for him? If so, do you have a strong support system available nearby to step in and help? It is wise to have a plan of how you will share these responsibilities when you are gone caring for a loved one to avoid resentment and stress in your relationship with each other.
Open Palm can help with these tough conversations with Collaborative Life Planning. It is a process whereby a team of professionals assists you and your spouse to make these important decisions before they become an issue. Each spouse has his/her own attorney representative. A mental health professional acts as the team facilitator to guide the conversations in a healthy, productive way. Other professionals are included on the team as needed, perhaps a financial professional or an estate planning professional. All professionals are trained in the innovative collaborative practice method.
Deal With Issues Before They Arise
The result is that you and your spouse leave the process with a detailed agreement as to how you will deal with these types of problems when they arise. Addressing these issues now can help you later. And your collaborative team will reconvene if you run into problems with your plan or there are other problems that you didn’t consider.
Don’t you and your spouse want a team of professionals on your side for handling tough life events without spiraling your relationship into divorce? Consider Open Palm Collaborative Life Planning before common life events become issues so stressful that they rupture your marriage.
Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.