We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach. --Gloria Steinem
The aging process is a topic that many do not want to discuss. It is considered taboo, and if you bring up the topic with your peers, they may pour some more wine, utter a passive-aggressive comment, or break into a joke to change the subject.
How might the sandwich conundrum play out for members of your generation as they approach a caregiving plan?
Mallory: There are a lot of baby boomers in Canada. According to the 2011 Census, 9.6 million people, or close to three out of 10 Canadians (29%), are baby boomers. Now let’s talk about the children of baby boomers. The same Census data shows that 9.1 million people, or 27% of the total population, are children of baby boomers. That means that the children of baby boomers are a smaller group of the population than the baby boomers themselves. Adding to that thought, Gen Xers and Millennials are known for having children later in their lives -in their 30s and 40s- than previous generations. Here is where the sandwich predicament comes in. Our parents (the boomers) are going to live longer than we have ever experienced. They will need care, support and financial security to live (and actively age) for that long. It will not be uncommon for a 55-year-old woman (say a later Millennial, born in 1986), a woman who should be focussing on her own health and aging process, to have a teenager at home while caring for an 80-year-old parent.
Are we, as the children of baby boomers, prepared for this scenario? Quite frankly, I don’t think we are. How do we prepare ourselves? It will require an awakening in the Gen X and Millennial generations to realize that we need to start actively participating in the aging planning process for our boomer parents if we are all going to thrive through their later years in life.
Sue: I would say that many of my peers have now experienced what it's like to be in the sandwich generation between aging parents and raising a family, along with holding down a job or running a business. The immense challenges that come with juggling all the caring roles and everyday life have now been directly part of our life experience. In addition, the pandemic has shown us the importance of where we live (our living environment) to the quality of our life and health.
My hope is that our generation will act upon what we have learned from our direct experiences of managing multiple caregiving roles (e.g.children, parents, friends). These “eye-opening” experiences includes facing the challenges of navigating the healthcare and housing options (or the lack thereof) to support an elder. My work is focused on helping my peers take the lead on their aging plans, with foresight and good information. This leadership includes having open conversations and making arrangements that set up a balanced caregiving situation for ourselves and the people we care about (either unpaid or paid caregivers, or a mix). Ideally, we can be more proactive about self-navigating to create a more balanced and sustainable caregiving situation.
As a Canadian society, we avoid talking about money and death. Both of these are key factors when it comes to planning for the aging process. How do you suggest that people bring up these topics with their family and loved ones?
Sue: Bringing up the topic of the transitions of aging, money and costs and a caregiving plan is never easy. There are five key elements that I recommend families use as a basis for exploring different options for aging in place and caregiving are:
- Health (including serious illness wishes and end-of-life wishes)
- Housing (including decisions to stay or move, modifying a home, or finding a suitable place to live)
- Social networks/connections (including living near friends/family members or finding places to build new relationships, networks of support and/or neighbourhood networks)
- Caregiving Team (selecting and preparing a mix of paid and unpaid support help and setting up the administrative arrangements)
- Resources (making informed financial plans, setting priorities, and leveraging other assets)
The goal of these discussions is to help envision preferred options and how to combine these elements for healthy aging in place - in light of different scenarios (e.g. if a spouse/partner passes away or a health setback). The approach that I recommend is similar to travel planning where you get “ahead of the curve” by researching and preparing in ways that set up a good experience. The five-part strategy framework allows for individual scenario planning and discussions about comfort levels with the supporting roles caregivers might be asked to play. (e.g. POA for Personal Care, or help coordinating in-home care). Having these important conversations over time, (versus all at once) sets everyone up for a smoother experience, more choices, and a balanced caregiving arrangement.
Mallory: I think this really comes down to leading by example. If you are a Millennial who wishes that your baby boomer parents were planning more for their future, start planning for your own and demonstrate that behaviour for them. The same goes for their baby boomer parents. If they want their Millennial/Gen X children to take the future more seriously, they need to show the importance of planning for their own lives and sharing that process with their children’s generation.
When I’m speaking with fellow Millennials about how to bring up the aging and end-of-life planning process with their baby boomer parents, I try to get them to remember that parents don’t want to be a burden for their children. They also don’t want to see their children in pain. Thinking about your mother and/or father being sick, aging, or dying is a painful process. Parents avoid having these conversations with their children out of love. Unfortunately, in not understanding a parent's wishes for life and death, a parent can end up causing more pain, and being even more of a burden, to a child than they realize. When you speak to your parents about the planning process, explain to them that you want to be able to be a support to them. You want to be able to give them the life and the death that they desire. Also emphasize the fact that this is a part of the circle of life. They took care of you when you were young, and now it is your turn to take care of them as they age.