Not Exactly The `Me' Generation

You don't have to tell Dennis and Marian Topping Patouhas what it's like to be members of the "sandwich generation." For these Greenwich (Conn.) baby boomers, life is full of responsibilities to parents, children, and work.

Marian, 45, is a full-time director of benefits, planning, and retirement at Pitney Bowes Inc. in nearby Stamford. Dennis, 43, is self-employed as a consultant in finance and real estate. Both travel on business and can be gone for a week or more at a time. When both are away, a live-in housekeeper takes care of their two sons, ages 12 and 9.From the beginning of their marriage, they've also cared for elderly parents and relatives. First, Dennis' parents, both in failing health, needed help to run their small stationery store. "We would go in early or fill in on weekends when they couldn't make it to work," Marian recalls. Two years later, Dennis' father died. When his mother died, they still were left with three elderly aunts and an uncle to look after.

Last June, Marian's 77-year-old mother went into a hospital with phlebitis and suffered several strokes. In January, she was moved to a nursing home outside Newburgh, N. Y. Marian's sister lives nearby and visits every night to feed her, but Marian drives an hour each weekend to spell her sister and spend three or four hours with her mother.

On a typical weekday, Marian rises at 6 a.m., drives their elder son to school, then gets to her office by 8 a.m. Dennis, whose office adjoins the home, drives their younger child to school.

NEW BENEFITS. Fortunately, Marian says, Pitney Bowes has long had some enlightened workplace policies, especially flextime, which was one of the company's big attractions for her when she started working there in 1986. Pitney Bowes also offers employees a child care referral service. And thanks to Marian's efforts, the company will begin flexible, cafeteria-style benefits later this year. The new benefits will give employees access to elder care referrals and allow them to spend some benefit funds on long-term care insurance for aged parents or themselves.

It's no surprise that time is this couple's scarcest resource. Marian scans catalogs and newspaper ads for products she can order over the phone. She shops at Stew Leonard's, a gigantic supermarket in Norwalk, Conn., where she can buy meat in bulk and have it cut to family-size portions for the freezer. All the details of a Walt Disney World family vacation last year were arranged in a single call to a Disney reservation service. And the Patouhases got away last year for a weekend--their first trip alone since their marriage in 1973.

Confronted with these demands, Marian says she feels proud to be a survivor. "When I back up and look at all we do, I say, `Oh, my God!' But somehow we get through it," she says. Devising strategies to meet commitments to work, children, and parents will be a priority for more and more of Patouhas' contemporaries.

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