Did the Grinch steal your retirement? Or was it your adult kids?

Are you one of the sandwich generation? Yes? Then you have our sympathy.

Did the Grinch steal your retirement? Or was it your adult kids?

Are you a member of the sandwich generation? It’s easy to tell. You work and save hard but can’t rest easy and enjoy the rewards. You’re too busy taking care of the needs of your ageing parents and your (supposedly) grown-up kids. Welcome to this widespread boomer dilemma: too tired, too busy, too financially stretched to enjoy any sort of fun retirement.

So how did it all go so wrong?

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that nearly a quarter of middle-aged adults are caring for ageing parents while their children still live at home – it’s a product of increased longevity that many of our parents are living into their 90s and beyond. And if we are financially independent and have time, this can be a marvellous opportunity to give back the love that our parents have given us.

But not everyone is in a position to become a carer. And many retirees are too financially strapped to provide the support that their parents may need for a deposit for an aged care facility.

Challenges for those in the sandwich generation can hit in many ways – your mental or physical health, your ability to maintain a full-time job and full-time income, your patience, privacy and sense of peace. It can really bring you down, particularly those noble souls who give up their occupation to care for a parent or older relative with dementia. In some cases, it may also be a spouse with early onset dementia – there is nothing fair in this situation, yet many do put their own lives on hold to care for those close to them with great love and attention. 

The other side of the sandwich refers to the demands of adult children. Back in the day, most of us had left our parents’ home to fend for ourselves, either by marrying or by moving into a share home. It was rare to move back home again, regardless of what life threw at you. Divorce, penury, job loss -  you were too proud to head back to Mum and Dad’s place. Or maybe you just enjoyed your independence.

Well, times change and so do the nature of relationships. Many boomers who grew up in the 50s and 60s experienced authoritarian parents. Boomer parents, by contrast, often err on the side of being friends first, and parents second. So the family home has become a base from which young adults venture out, and back, and out, and back again. Many bring home ‘significant others’ so the household has two or more couples. Some pay board, but many do not. And it is becoming very common for adult children to live at home until they are 30 or older. So what does this do to the ‘meat’ in the sandwich? The parents? It significantly reduces their opportunity to save for a retirement which may extend for 30 years or more. If the adult children do pay board, it often doesn’t cover all expenses including rent or rates, energy bills, food and maintenance. It also significantly reduces the parents’ opportunity to simply kick back and relax as they are often still ‘parenting’ which may involve driving, cooking, cleaning and other activities that the grown-up children are more than capable of doing for themselves.

It is true that multi-generational households are very traditional and can provide a strong support and source of great love and companionship.

But that probably happens most often when all members pull their weight, both financially and with the home maintenance.

So how should you manage your family commitments in a fair and reasonable manner? It’s obviously a very personal decision as to who lives in your home, and how much you feel you should help an older parent or support your grownup children.

For those with ageing parents these are big decisions, best tackled with the cooperation of your siblings, while your parents are still able to make the fundamental decisions and share their wishes.

It is important to understand, with their permission, their financial situation and what this will cover if the time comes for in-home care or, care in an aged care facility accommodation.

It is also entirely fair to expect the grandchildren to pitch in and help when and where necessary.

How you support your adult children is again a very personal decision, best made as a couple if that is your situation. This may require tact, negotiation and compromise. But as with all parenting, a united front goes a long way.  Consider also the funding necessary for your later years and whether you have already invested enough in your children through primary, secondary and perhaps tertiary education, cars and other gifts, etc. If so, it may be hard to cut those apron strings, but perhaps it’s smart to create a household budget and expect board which fully recognises the costs of the extra people. Consider also whether you are happy to live ‘en famille’ for the foreseeable future, or if you and your partner may find more joy in the state of empty nesting. Yes, if your kids are still studying you may believe it is a little soon to tip them out, but it’s never too soon to start planning it. And it’s always worth checking whether there is any financial assistance that you, or they, may be entitled to if you are a carer, or if your young adult is a student. In fact, it’s always the case that knowing your rights and being prepared to assert yourself is often the best way to tackle life’s tricky stages – ‘sandwich’ years included.

Is this your situation? Are your mum and dad still alive? Who cares for them? What about your kids? Grown up but ‘failing to launch’? 



    To make a comment, please register or login
    17th Nov 2016
    Getting the kids out of the granny flat may be expensive, but probably not much more so than keeping them while they live there.

    What ever the cost, it is great to visit the kids, rather than live with them.

    17th Nov 2016
    Yes, the Grinch stole my retirement. His other name was Jeff Kennett.
    17th Nov 2016
    This almost describes exactly the situation my wife and I find ourselves in , we have most kids gone and one home studying, but telling them some home truths sometimes is difficult especially if you are like us and maybe "do too much" because of how you feel for your children.
    And let me tell you all , when they leave as some of ours have, you still find yourself being asked for some help.
    So this article has shown me that we are far from alone in these household set ups.

    The housing manipulation and pricing set ups and employment are problems for everyone and from what I've seen, the governments now and in the past, over the last ten years tell falsehoods about how many jobs are around, it is not that easy .
    When a family member, an adult, is studying and trying to find some employment must visit and prove to centrelink that they are searching , well, you know the drill, and I know there will be the self satisfied perfect parents out there who have it all sussed out , that will say get the kid off your back and boot him/her out, well folks as we see in the numbers, it is not that easy, it seems thousands and thousands of baby boomers like us are well and truly tied up looking after parents and children.
    So true, that your retirement can disappear , so as we have done, the crunch time is coming, or we will be very empty in the pocket! Good article!
    17th Nov 2016
    John, my Mother-in-Law had a brain aneurysm, heart attack and stroke all within 3 days. My wife agonized for 3 months about putting her into care or looking after her ourselves. I had worked in the care industry for a number of years so knew the pitfalls of full time care for a complete invalid. We eventually put her into care (and she loves the place). Her two sons were not happy that we opted for care, but they did not even contemplate looking after her (that is a daughters job), even though they are fit middle aged men and tear sister is a severe asthmatic and also has Chrones Disease.

    In the 3 years since my mum-ln-law has regained most of of her functions but still needs 24 hour care. We still believe we could not have gone through those 3 years and provided the care and rehabilitation that was required without it affecting our health and marriage.

    For the rest we have 3 children, 2 of whom left home several times each over the last 15 years and came and went several times. Our last is at home but contributes to the expenses and helps with whatever is needed around the house. He also has purchased a house that he currently rents out, so he has his head screwed on. It is good that he is here as when we go away he feeds the fish and looks after the house.

    Perhaps we are lucky or maybe we just did things right. Don't really know, but I started saving for my retirement when I was about 20 and when I married my wife was on board with my savings plan.

    I think a major problem in Australia is that too many people don't understand financials and are not interested enough to find out, and I have said in this forum before that financial information should be taught in schools so that children have the option to learn how money works. Perhaps then we may be able to call ourselves the lucky country.
    18th Nov 2016
    Spot on Captain, Education is the key and must start at primary school and progress through to HSC. The problem is the teachers need to be educated first and at least lift their education standard.
    This baby boomer generation has missed the boat but if we don't get Financial management education to the schoolies they too will be relying on the OAP.
    18th Nov 2016
    I explained how compound interest worked to my children when they were pre-school age. I revisited the conversation a year later and 1 son did not understand then (he did a lot of years later), the daughter understood and acted on the advice by the time she was about eighteen, the other song grasped the idea immediately.

    They all now own their own homes and are contributing to super (only a small amount until these idiot politicians we have - all parties - finally understand that savings are the way to ensure a decent retirement).

    You don't have to be an Einstein to understand how to save money just remember to spend less than you earn!!!
    17th Nov 2016
    I feel for people caught between two generations, have seen people struggling in this situation. For me, my situation is that both my husband and I lost our parents some years ago and we only have the issues surrounding adult kids. We've help all of the adult kids in various ways, depending on the need. I have no regrets, however I will be pleased as tie marches on and things become easier.

    Currently have one back home, relationship breakdown, we financially helped (solicitors, house payments, improvements) and she has kept the home (now its rented out). She contributed all of the deposit and 5 months into moving into the house the boyfriend 'fell out of love'. Family sticks together always has, always will.

    So, I suppose in relation to this topic, yes, we have financially been stretched, but for us, there is no way we would do otherwise. No regrets.
    Chris B T
    18th Nov 2016
    You didn't add sibblings to the mix, sick both pyshically and/or mentally.
    You pass through stages and something else takes its place or added to concurrently.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles