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The Sandwich Generation

The “sandwich generation” is not a generation that likes sandwiches (that’s pretty much every generation), but a generation of older working adults who are supporting both their adult children and their parents. An example from The Washington Post:

Michelle, 60, and her husband are still supporting their 29-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter. They pay the rent for their daughter’s apartment in Manhattan while she prepares to attend law school. They are subsidizing their son while he works at a low-paying job teaching English in Spain.

Michelle just returned after spending three months with her mother, who is 85 and lives in Florida. Her mother is physically healthy but is growing forgetful, and Michelle took leave of her job to spend time trying to persuade her to move north.

Michelle said she and her husband don’t take vacations anymore, just trips to help their children and her mother. Her husband would like to slow down, she said, but is hesitant to retire when they have so many financial obligations.

I’m not one to frown upon young people who receive financial support from their parents when their parents can afford and are happy to subsidize their children’s lives. We have each known young people in these situations, and the people I know who were in these situations are good, smart people who took advantage of something that was available to them (i.e. took an unpaid internship in an expensive city which they were only able to do with the help of their folks), and are now self-sufficient and paying their own way. I imagine myself as a 50-year-old father with a child I adore who wants to build homes for the poor people living on the moon or something, and I wonder if I had the money to support this endeavor I could say, “No, if this is something you want to do, you have to pay your own way!” Though I imagine my kid would have his/her own savings account to fund that moon trip. I need to stop thinking about this imaginary child I have.

In any case, I feel for Michelle and her husband who don’t take vacations anymore so they can let their children live the lives they want to live and support the living parent they have left. My only advice to Michelle would be that sometimes you just have to say no.


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My parents’ strategy was always that if I wanted to do something, I had to plan everything out, do all the applications, figure out what kind of funding I could get, and then, if I still needed financial support from them, present a detailed plan to them of how much and why. So they were always willing to support my ventures, but I had to do the planning and provide a compelling reason for whatever I was trying to do.

I think that’s a good approach no matter how much money you have (in my case we’re not talking about indefinite Manhattan rent, more like $1,200 to go on an overseas study trip or something, but I think the principle would work in most cases.)

Also: nN!!

Mike Dang (#2)

@stuffisthings Yes, I caught that! I do like your parents’ approach. My parents’ approach was that they couldn’t afford to subsidize anything for me, so if I wanted to do anything, I’d have to figure it out on my own. Which I did! I finally paid off a loan last year that I took out to study abroad during my junior year of college (WORTH IT).

@Mike Dang Ha, I just thought “nN” was the awesome futuristic name your had picked out for your imaginary future kid!

Mike Dang (#2)

@stuffisthings I am considering it! How to pronounce though?

@Mike Dang “small en to the big enth” or “nNNGh” for short.

Cup of T (#2,533)

@Mike Dang Be reasonable; only rich people will be able to afford to live on the moon. #firstsatelliteproblems

@Cup of T Considering that the highest-profile proponent of moon colonization at the moment is Newt Gingrich, future moon society will almost certainly feature homeless people (and rich moonites telling them “Well if you can’t afford oxygen maybe you should WORK HARDER”)

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

I am INCREDIBLY fortunate to have parents who can afford this (they’re both attorneys in booming fields), and they have indeed financed things for me such as that unpaid internship in Manhattan, and also studying abroad in Italy, and they helped subsidize me when I was in between jobs about a year and a half ago. Now, thankfully, I can support myself…but sometimes they will offer to do something, like pay a credit card bill that wouldn’t go away (it emerged during the period of unemployment for things like car repairs and I was having trouble paying it off because I work for a non-profit and don’t make much money), and I spend a few days agonizing over my decision because I want to be a self-sufficient adult but also I’d love to get the credit card debt behind me so I can start saving money that isn’t in a retirement account. I ultimately decide to say “yes” because they can afford to do it and it gives them pleasure, I think, to help me out in that way. And now because of their generosity I can start my emergency savings fund, which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, and hopefully I will not need their generous help again because I will make responsible financial decisions!

They do support my sister, who has an indefinite rent deal in Manhattan, and I have some, ah, feelings about this. However, they can still take vacations (lots of vacations), so as long as they can still take vacations and afford the lifestyle they want, I’m happy.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@TheDilettantista I think if parents have the money, and they want to spend it this way, that’s awesome. My parents did very well for themselves and a few years ago bailed me out of something, without me even asking. They just mailed a check, said they would rather see me have it now than when they died, and to move on. I was incredibly grateful. Then they lost everything by making terrible decisions and now they are struggling to get by and I don’t have the means to help them because they choose to live 3,000 miles away. It’s frustrating and sad, especially because just a few years ago, they were doing so well.

My boyfriend’s parents are in the same spot my parents used to be in and they do nice things for him and he feels guilty. I tell him that if they are offering, and he isn’t expecting it, I think it’s okay. I have a problem when grown children EXPECT to have their lives financed. This kid who moved to Spain? Sorry pal, get a bunch of roommates and a few side jobs.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@josefinastrummer Yeah I was just shocked because I hadn’t asked and wasn’t expecting ANYTHING. They came up to visit and right before they left my mom was all: “So how is money” and I told her the truth, and she just offered. I never take it for granted and I hope that she never has to make that offer again.

I do feel guilty, especially because my boyfriend’s parents do not help him AT ALL, and he is taking out lots of student loans to return to school to pursue a new career path (and one that will ultimately be lucrative as it is in the health sciences, so he isn’t going back to school to study like, creative jump-roping, he’s making a very sound and mature choice to improve his future). The difference is that his parents could help him–not pay the whole thing, but they could certainly contribute some money toward his living expenses. It is frustrating to me because they shelled out A LOT of money for his sister’s wedding and yet they wouldn’t even pay for the tux he had to rent to be in the wedding–Come ON parents, your son is going to have a TON of student loans and you won’t even help him a little?! Not even to rent a damn tux?!?! I know you shouldn’t judge how people use their money but I am pretty irritated at his parents because of that. Boyfriend, it should be said, doesn’t expect anything and is relatively calm about the whole situation (although he was pretty mad about the tux).

I’m sorry to hear about your parents’ financial difficulties, and hope that things work out for them!

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@TheDilettantista So right on about the damn tux! They could pay for the wedding, but not his tux to be in the wedding? Lame. I am glad you and your boyfriend are on the same page about things.

And thanks but my parents’ money problems aren’t going anywhere, especially since they choose to live in one of the most expensive places in the country, mostly due to pride. Parents!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@josefinastrummer Unnngh really? For various reasons (grad school, meeting said boyfriend who will soon be fiance, finding a job in my field) I live in a relatively inexpensive area (the Research Triangle in North Carolina) that, due to the high concentration of universities and PhD holders and NYC refugees, has a lot of the perks of a big city–good arts scene, good food scene, etc. Had things gone a little differently for me I would likely be living in one of those super expensive places, and I still might someday, but for now I’m happy to be where I am, working in a field I love, and not paying out the nose for my life.

Pride is an awful thing, ick.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

In a situation like Michelle’s, I wonder how the kids feel about being financially subsidized while their parents can’t do the things they would like to do. To be fair, the article didn’t specify the details about that situation and it is extremely difficult to find decent-paying jobs (mildly speaking). But I wonder if the kids are aware of their parents’ sacrifices so that they can live the life that they (presumably) want.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@CubeRootOfPi But it sounds like Michelle’s kids are choosing to not even look for jobs. And no one is promised a successful job. If you live in Manhattan, you can get several “unsuccessful” jobs to pay the bills until you figure things out. Michelle makes it sound like she and her neighbors raised their children to always depend on them, so I really don’t feel sorry for anyone in this situation.

Jinxie (#2,987)

@CubeRootOfPi My folks are retired, and I was wracked with guilt this Christmas over how much they spent on my presents. (We’d agreed we’d all stick to a budget this year! They broke the rules.) I can’t imagine how I’d live with myself if my parents were sacrificing their dreams in order to pay for my rent in Manhattan.

Slutface (#53)

My parents wouldn’t be able to help either myself or my grandparents out. I can’t be alone in this.

@Slutface oh, yeah. my mom lent me 4,000 pesos this december (like 300 dollars) but she couldn’t really give me (or my grandmother) more than that

AlliNYC (#1,725)

@Slutface Nope not alone at all. My mother is constantly broke (and dependent on my father’s alimony) and my father spends all his spare money on the plantation he bought in the Phillippines (ex-pat, mistress’ family lives there, etc etc). I -will- say that he sent all of us (mom/brother/me) a supposedly generous check for Christmas. I haven’t opened it yet out of principle… maybe $500? But that’s all I expect to see from him for a while, and the most they ever did anyway was help out with flights home for Christmas/weddings occasionally.

And then there’s my coworker, whose parents are partially subsidizing her fancy midtown studio (at least $2500/month I think?) just because she stopped getting along with her roommates all of a sudden. #jealous

Stina (#686)

My parents were very clear with “This is how much we will pay towards your undergrad, any costs above that are on you. Grad school, weddings, anything else, you pay for that yourself.” Partially because they were trying to make me independent and partially because they wouldn’t have been able to do anything more. Emotional support however was always available.

My husband from his early teen years had to help support his dysfunctional Mom but managed to cut the ties when he was 21. We have agreed that if my Mom needed help we would because she has always been very responsible but his Mom gets no help or contact of any kind. Sounds harsh but believe me it’s the only way to avoid being dragged down by her.

My husband and I are not having children so we are more of a tostada generation maybe? We do have cats that constantly beg for treats but we limit those because they would eat until they became small furry footballs.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Stina Haha, tostada generation. Love it.

Stina (#686)

@TheDilettantista Aw thanks. Sidenote: We have cat twins maybe. I saw your Avatar and went “Buddy?! How did this person get a photo of ..” Unless, of course, the kitty is not yours. But a cute photo anyway.

AlliNYC (#1,725)

@Stina I would love to read an article (maybe on Hairpin, not Billfold) about how to successfully cut off a drag-down parent. Like, really love.

Stina (#686)

@AlliNYC It is a subject that isn’t talked about enough. Not all parents have your best interests at heart unfortunately. Internet hugs to you.
For my husband it was : 1. Move away 2. Initiate no contact 3. Ignore threats of retaliation (which in her case was just threats no follow thru) 4. If contact must be made, do it through 3rd party legal representation which we had to do when she was trying to be his Grandmother’s/her mother’s legal guardian which would have been a very. bad. idea. 5. Ignore any pleas for contact through third parties. If third parties continue to pass on messages, cut off contact with them as well.

And if others might find this dramatic, she stole money from one of her grandchildren’s college fund (that sibling didn’t want to press charges). She has plenty of money on her own, she’s not starving, she’s just that greedy. Believe me our paranoia is justified.

sally (#917)

I hope the slow starter children are figuring on getting their stuff in order in time to give their parents material support during their retirement.

deepomega (#22)

“Listen, how am I supposed to be in law school if I don’t live in Manhattan? They’d throw me out on my ass!”

aetataureate (#1,310)

@deepomega The total calamity of a person going into law-school debt while her parents pay for her Manhattan apartment so she can . . . Be one of the million unemployed lawyers. Is just. I can’t even.

calamity (#2,577)

My parents supported me during the 18-month stretch of unemployment and unpaid internships I had after graduating. Luckily I had no debt or loans to pay off, lived at home, and didn’t have a car of my own. I don’t think I would have been comfortable having them pay my rent so I could live elsewhere, and in the past ~10 years my father’s income (or at least his consumption levels) has increased drastically, so they could easily have afforded it.

I still lived at home rent-free for a little over a year once I finally got a paying job (by which I mean a minimum-wage full-time internship), and they also provided around half my meals, but I paid for almost everything else. Gas when I borrowed a car, health insurance, phone bill, metrocard, a work-appropriate wardrobe, non-work-appropriate clothes, any food I consumed outside of the house, computer repairs, etc. I was pretty frivolous with my spending that first summer (the sheer quantity of clothes I bought, I swear …), but by the time I finally moved out I’d managed to save around $3000, aka enough money to not feel like I was constantly at homelessness’s door. All my jobs have been with nonprofits, so my salary has basically ranged from “a pittance” to “slightly more than a pittance,” but whenever the situation started to become dire I somehow managed to scrape together enough to avoid borrowing anything from them. I didn’t even realize I was unusual in this respect until about a year ago, when I found out nearly all of my closest friends had borrowed, over the course of their post-graduation years, hundreds of dollars from their parents.

They HAVE, however, paid for a couple of family vacations – two Christmases with relatives, a long weekend in Florida to visit my mom, and most generously a week and a half in Spain. So I guess that generosity makes up for my (sometimes surprising) ability to otherwise keep myself afloat? I mean, I only have $650 in my savings account right now, but I started contributing to a 401k in October! And there’s an IRA out there somewhere under my name, although I have no idea what it’s worth or even how to access it!

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