Sabine Heubner, in The Family in Roman Egypt*, describes how parents in second and third century Roman Egypt were expected to “feed and clothe their children, watch over their moral development, celebrate their coming of age, provide their sons with an education and their daughters with a dowry, and find suitable spouses for them.”
“Parents did not spare expense and proudly invited friends and neighbours to celebrate their sons’ and daughters’ births, coming-of-age ceremonies, and weddings.” This mention of births and weddings in Roman Egypt made me think, naturally, of the last of that particular trilogy: deaths.
I’m typical of someone my age: a parent of teenage children and with parents who are octogenarians. It occurred to me that, while I talk often about my children, work, and interests, I very rarely talk about my lovely, but aging, parents and the challenges that I, and those like me, will face at some point soon in looking after them. And I should.
Like many others, a challenging path for my husband and I lies ahead. We will have to support our children both emotionally and financially as they continue their education and, no doubt, return home to live following their degree, whilst also deciding how to fund the additional care my parents will eventually need.
It’s a situation that so many find themselves in that we have even been given a name – the sandwich generation: a generation relied upon by both young and old dependants.
So it’s official: I’m akin now to something once described by the Wall Street Journal as “Britain’s biggest contribution to gastronomy.” Neither crème brûlée nor Eton Mess, sadly, but, rather, the sandwich. (And, before anyone suggests that this analogy has something to do with my mid-afternoon penchant for a snack in the office, I should issue a warning: this simply is an analogy, nothing more.)
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. My children and I get to spend more time with my parents and hear the wonderful stories they have collected over their lifetime. It also isn’t something that I have to face alone.
I stumbled on a great resource, Age Space, which offers advice on health care planning, legal issues and even ‘how to look after you.’ A couple of my favourite, uplifting articles included one on how to have optimistic conversations with your parents (discussing the shade of the neighbour’s hair dye can be included), and one in which an 85 year old shares the wisdom of her life. These made me smile and feel more positive, yet what truly made me feel like I wasn’t going through this alone was the forum where you can find a friendly voice that understands what you’re going through. The sandwich generation may be a common term for people in my situation, but I think that Age Space sums it up more eloquently – they call us the ‘caring generation.’
Age Space is a great place to start when looking for answers and advice from those that can relate to your experiences, but as many of the related challenges are financial, I have included some starter questions for your financial adviser, if you feel you need more comprehensive advice:
- How do I go about working out what I will need to set aside for ongoing concurrent financial commitments like education and long-term care?
- How can I work with my parents to help them address challenges like Inheritance Tax?
- What should I be doing to help my children build up their own finances?
- How can I ensure that my parents’ Will is adequate and that they understand all of their options?
*Sabine Heubner’s The Family in Roman Egypt Habilitationschrift, Freie Universitat, Berlin 2010
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Head of Private Client Services
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