How COVID-19 impacts the "Sandwich Generation"
Author: Ron Carson
A recent MIT study on COVID-19 and remote work reports that half of workers who were employed before the pandemic are now working remotely. That includes millions of parents of school-aged children who will be attending classes online from home this fall.
Many of these workers also number among the 43 million who regularly provide unpaid care for an older or disabled family member. In addition to dealing with how to keep family members safe during a pandemic—especially in multigenerational households—many single parents and couples are saddled with managing the logistics of childcare, supervising schoolwork, and providing eldercare, while managing their own work responsibilities.
That leaves little doubt why 80% of “Sandwich Generation” adults—those raising children while providing care for older relatives—say the pandemic has left them feeling “often or constantly” overwhelmed, according to a survey.
Gender and income level also play a role. A majority—84% of women surveyed said they felt overwhelmed compared to 75% of men. Additionally, 84% of those with an annual incomes below $50,000 reported feeling overwhelmed compared to 63% of respondents with annual incomes above $150,000.
Not surprisingly, respondents indicated that the activities that suffer the most as a result of their responsibilities include self-care, sleep, and financial health. In addition, across income levels, nearly 85% percent of respondents believe their retirement will be negatively impacted by their financial responsibilities to both children and aging parents. More than half (55%), say they have had to adjust their retirement goals and nearly a third (29%) feel that they will never be able to retire.
When asked what would help to reduce their stress, the top three choices selected by respondents included access to a mental health professional (63%), decision-making support from family members (61%), and a financial advisor (57%).
In many ways, those in the Sandwich Generation have been disproportionately burdened by the social, emotional and financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. However, there are steps those struggling with the competing priorities of raising a family while working and caring for aging relatives can take to bring a greater sense of control to their lives and finances.
Make self-care a priority
While sleep, exercise and eating right can help lower stress and promote a strong immunity—taking care of yourself is often easier said than done, especially during chaotic times. However, when every day feels like chaos, that makes it even more important to make the time to care for our own mental and physical health. As the airlines remind us, you need to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. That’s because you can’t be valuable to the people that count on you without first taking care of yourself.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Ironically, for years I thought my time was too important to spend exercising or meditating, or to deliberately disconnect while away from the office. I was building a business. People counted on me to be there and to be engaged. However, over time, that mindset started to take a toll. My energy level decreased, and I just wasn’t as focused as I wanted to be. So I made some changes. I started eating healthier and exercising more. Now, exercise is a focal point of my day. I believe that committing myself to a healthier lifestyle that includes time spent meditating, working out, and getting off the grid to recharge and refocus has made me a better person and a much more effective leader.
There’s no question that change is hard. Start small. Schedule time for a run, a hot shower, or a walk around the block. Whatever you choose, make it a priority in your life and keep building upon it, until making time for you becomes a regular part of your day and an essential part of who you are.
Create the balance you seek
While most of us plan for the milestones in our lives—marriage, family, graduations, the sale of a business, and retirement—we tend to spend far less time planning for life’s unexpected moments. A leading reason for this is that we’re not as comfortable thinking about the things outside of our direct control. Yet, having a plan in place for both expected and unexpected events can help reduce our anxiety about the things we can’t control.
For example, when it comes to your finances, you can control how much you save, your tolerance for risk, and the steps you take to protect your income and your goals. Other things, such as market volatility, inflation, an economic downturn, or a sudden illness or injury are outside of your direct control. However, the things you can’t control can still create tremendous concern and anxiety. That’s where comprehensive planning comes in. A plan provides a clear path for dealing with uncertainty and a sound framework for managing change.
For example, what if you’re forced to retire early due to an illness or job loss? Will you have enough income to support your goals? What if the market drops 10%, 20% or 30% while you’re in retirement? Will you still be okay? What if you need long-term care? When you have a plan in place, you can stress test it for these and other events, including worst-case scenarios. Your financial advisor is able to analyze the impact that these different scenarios may have on your ability to accomplish your goals. It also enables you and your advisor to make adjustments to your strategy to help you remain track, especially during periods of increased uncertainty like we’re experiencing now. Knowing that you have a plan in place that can adjust to changing circumstances in your life, as well as changes in the markets or economy, goes a long way toward replacing anxiety with confidence.
Ask for help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Juggling multiple priorities can take a toll. Overextending yourself can make it more challenging to meet your responsibilities, including caring for loved ones. It’s likely that family members and friends want to help out, but don’t know what you need. Make a list of things that others can take off of your plate and be specific. The more specific you are, the more likely you will be able to check something off your list.
If you’re concerned about your finances, schedule time to talk with a financial advisor about your situation. The right advisor will be objective and nonjudgmental (and you may hear them use the term fiduciary). Their job is to help you get to a place where you are confident about your family’s financial future—whether that’s providing a second opinion on your current strategy or putting a plan in place to begin building wealth.