Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Parenting from the Torah, Week 5: The Sandwich Generation

This Shabbos, Gd-willing, I'll be leading the fifth class in our "Parenting from the Torah" series. The topic will be "The Sandwich Generation", and I hope to address some of the big questions that arise when people have the opportunity to care for their parents while raising children.

Here are the vignettes I plan to use:
1. Janet and Jim have three children in yeshiva, at a total cost of $45,000 per year. They are also paying for 24-hour care for Jim's parents, and they are finding that between these two costs, they cannot make ends meet. From a halachic perspective: If they need to cut one of these, which do they cut?

2. Jill moved her mother Susan into her home two years ago, when Susan's dementia began to worsen. She reasoned that the home environment and a daughter's care would be better than Susan would receive in a nursing home. Now, though, Jill is finding that her mother's presence is causing great strain on Jill's marriage, difficulty for Jill's work in her home office, and bitterness between Jill and her siblings. May Jill move her mother into a nursing home?

3. James (age 38), John (35) and Julie (30), all married, are sharing the tasks of looking after their parents. James and Julie are raising children; John and his wife are childless. Although their relationships with each other have historically been strong, they find themselves quarreling over the specifics of who does what for their parents. Is there halachic basis for assigning certain responsibilities to a particular child? If not, how can they reduce their disagreements?

Your thoughts on these vignettes would be most welcome.


  1. Very interesting and true to life examples!

    I believe the halacha is clear in the first vignette that if the parents have the financial means, the money for their care can come from them instead of the children. I believe the source is gemara in Kiddushin.

    If the parents don't have the funds, then I believe the obligation remains with the children, and they have a good case to plead before the school tuition committee! (I assume when you say "cut" you don't mean send the kids to public school).

    In the second vignette, I believe Shalom Bayit trumps in this case.

  2. 1. MM is imho correct. If no $, it's not so simple, since the tuition committee might ask why the grandparents are not on public assistance.

    2. What is the question - the chiyuv is to make sure the parents needs are taken care of, not necessarily to take care of them yourselves at any cost.

    3.probably not but hashkafically R'YBS pointed out that the firstborn gets double share of inheritance since he is the primary helper -perhaps extrapolate here. In real life imho each case is unique due to the many variables (I assume it's not the case that they are all fighting to do more to be zoche more of the mitzvah)
    Joel Rich

  3. Shalom RosenfeldJuly 13, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Case #2 is Rav Asi. If you can leave your elderly, high-maintenance mother and move to another country (though yes some poskim say only if it's making aliyah), then you could certainly put her in a high-quality nursing home a few blocks away and visit once a week when your nerves aren't frazzled. Medrish says you can put your father working at the millstone and still be honoring him, if that's how the specifics work out. No one-size-fits-all solution.

  4. Shalom RosenfeldJuly 13, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    R' Joel,

    No, they're fighting to give the heiliga kavod of the mitzva to the *other* sibling.


    Though there could be situations where it's "I wanted to take mom shopping at *my* kind of stores, and instead you took her shopping at *your* kind of stores."


  6. If the parent needserious medical care then a nursing home, however "high Quality" might not be a good answer in terms of meeting the mother's medical needs, assuming thhe funds are indeed available. Wheras a combination of getting a trained medical aide and homeschooling would enable proper supervision for all concerned, breaktime, and balancing finances for the family involved.

  7. There is also this: for many families there is not one sandwich generation but two of them, with 4 generations living, further complicating who should do what for whom and when. And as longevity increases it is going to be more ordinary to see 5 generations living at one time, making that 3 sandwich generations. So perhaps a question to ask is does the halacha get modified or applied differently when there are this many generations living at one time?

  8. Michael-
    Good thoughts, but re: your second paragraph I'd say not necessarily...

    Joel, Shalom-
    Re: Using a nursing home - Not clear-cut; see the various approaches in poskim to Rav Asi's story.

    Thanks! I hope I'll have a chance to watch that before Shabbos...

    Anonymous 3:13 AM-
    All important points, thanks.

    Oy; these vignettes are hard enough!

  9. As awful as it was to lose Bad Cohen's parents so young, I read these things and think how lucky we are that we won't have to make these choices about them.

    Of course, MY parents are another issue...

  10. If no $, it's not so simple, since the tuition committee might ask why the grandparents are not on public assistance.

    A simple answer as to why might be gits and the look back rules.

  11. That would be gifts with an f. Once again, the laptop keyboard fails me.