Have you heard of the "sandwich generation"? The term was coined by social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981 to describe women who are sandwiched between taking care of their ageing parents and raising their own children at the same time. Over time and with the shift in gender roles, the definition has expanded to include both men and women who are generally in their 30s to 40s.
With everyone at home depending on them, it is no wonder people in the sandwich generation are feeling the physical and emotional strain.
Lauren Goh, a 38-year-old housewife, describes her family life as "chaotic and high-pressure".
"There are so many things to remember and attend to — doctor's appointments, exam dates, school events. One year, it got so bad that I completely forgot it was my daughter's birthday. There's only so much one person can do. But I think one of the toughest parts is that the unexpected always happens. Your kids fall sick, or a parent slips and falls, and it's a mad scramble but you can't show how frazzled you are, because they're looking to you to keep things together," she said.
These high-pressure situations are a predicament that many Singaporeans can relate to. Are you part of the sandwich generation?
But don't fret – we have four "ingredients" to help you cope better:
Have you heard the saying "No man is an island"? It's a perfect slogan for the sandwich generation, as one of the biggest mistakes is to try and shoulder all the responsibility alone — and who better to share the load with than the people you're taking care of?
Get the kids involved in taking care of your parents. Depending on their age and how independent your children are, the tasks can be as simple as helping to check in on your parents, fetching them things when needed or reminding them to take medicine.
This ensures some of your parents' essential daily needs are being met while simultaneously instilling good values and filial piety in your children.
Conversely, get your parents involved in taking care of the kids too — whether it's bringing them for a stroll in the park (yay to healthy living!) or simply making sure they are not getting into trouble while you focus on your other tasks — giving them a key role in caring for the children is an effective way to keep them occupied and active, while you take a breather.
An added bonus is that this provides ample opportunities for inter-generational bonding, which is great for the elderly's well-being. As a result, everyone at home is closer and actively supporting you — a win-win for the whole family!
While under pressure, it's natural to seek out quick fixes. That's why this is often an overlooked step — the payoff takes time and effort, the effects are not instant, but it is ultimately worth the work and the wait!
Educating your children on the importance of frugality and saving will help shape their mentality and attitude towards money. In return, you get supportive family members who help reduce the financial toll on you.
Of course, it's a lot easier said than done. Education is more of a journey than a destination, but here are three simple things you can do:
a) Make it fun!
Ditch the long lectures — financial education doesn't have to feel too rigid and academic! Learning about money can be a lot more fun and easy when you find creative ways to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Try making a game or a light-hearted family rule out of it. One way is to designate a family $1 jar and set a rule — everyone has to put every $1 coin that comes into their possession into the jar. An alternative is to put a $1 coin in whenever someone breaks a rule (e.g.: forgot to turn off the lights).
b) Lead by example!
You can also show your children how you cut back on spending and make sensible, frugal decisions. For example, you can take them grocery shopping and compare the prices or have more home-cooked meals instead of eating out often. The crucial part here is explaining the rationale behind these choices to your children, in order to impart the same values and teach them to adopt the same mindset.
c) Grow their savings!
Get your children to save a certain percentage of their monthly allowance to help cultivate the habit of saving. At the end of the year, you can teach them how to grow their savings through investments or placing their savings in a financial instrument to earn interest.
As health issues tend to arise more in old age, there is a risk of a greater financial responsibility as our parents grow older.
Prepare yourself by making it a point to review your parents' healthcare policies. You can also check with your parents on their Medisave balances to ensure that they have sufficient Medisave for their hospitalisation, day surgery and selected outpatient expenses. Here are two other ways you can use Medisave to your parents' benefit:
Information above is accurate as of November 2017
Take comfort in the fact that your parents, if they are Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents (PRs), are automatically covered under MediShield Life.
MediShield Life is an individual basic medical insurance scheme that covers expenses incurred for hospitalisations and certain approved outpatient treatments. The best part of the scheme is that it protects all Singapore Citizens and PRs against large medical bills for life, regardless of age or health conditions.
MediShield Life premiums are fully payable using Medisave. To ensure that MediShield Life premiums remain affordable, the Government will provide various premiums subsidies and support measures:
Information above is accurate as of November 2017
Although MediShield Life provides coverage for all ward types, it is designed to cover you for hospitalisation in a B2 or C ward type in public hospitals, with medical attention from a team of doctors. On the other hand, an Integrated Shield Plan (IP) provides you with higher coverage for hospitalisation in A or B1 ward type in public or private hospitals, and allows you to have your choice of doctor.
If your parents had purchased an IP from a private insurer, do evaluate if it is necessary. While the premiums for MediShield Life and IPs increase with age, IPs are significantly more expensive, especially during old age. MediShield Life coverage might just be enough for them, and will be a lot more manageable for your finances if you are helping with the payment of their premiums.
We all want the best for our parents, the very people who raised and took care of us. So it's hard to bear the thought that they may not have enough for retirement.
So the best thing you can do for your parents is to ease them — and yourself — of their worries about the future.
A great way to do this is to prepare a retirement fund to guarantee them sufficient income for the rest of their lives. You've heard the saying "make hay while the sun shines" — similarly, it is best to get started on this early while you have stable income, instead of leaving it for later.
When your parents retire, they can join CPF LIFE for lifelong payouts. That way, they will get peace of mind for the rest of their lives. And as these payouts depend on how much they have in their CPF accounts, it is in their best interests to grow their CPF savings.
You can help build up your parents' CPF savings with the Retirement Sum Topping-Up Scheme (RSTU). Simply do it via my cpf or e-Cashier (for cash top-ups)!
For more tips, take a leaf out of Heartland Boy's book. When he realised his parents had insufficient CPF savings, he replaced his parents' monthly cash allowances with an annual cash top-up to their retirement accounts.
Read more: How CPF gives extra interest rate for my parents' Retirement Accounts
Being part of the sandwich generation means having to deal with a lot of responsibilities and pressure. But with the right ingredients, it's also a role that comes with rewards that are priceless: a close and loving family, a comfortable retirement for your parents and a stable future for your children.