Generation X women grew up with the idea that, in order to have it all in life (aka the great career and the great family), they were going to have to wait a little bit longer to start their family. They put their career first and once they felt it was marginally secure, they turned their focus to starting a family. Women started having babies well into their 30s and some even into their 40s. I am a huge supporter of women “having it all,” but what I find most interesting is that we are not reflecting on what that will mean for these women as they age and enter into the last third of their lives.
If a woman has a child anywhere from age 35-40 years old, in all likelihood her child could be living at home with her until her late fifties. Another scenario could be a Generation X woman being raised by an older Baby Boomer or a young Silent Generation mother. Let’s use an example.
Meet Susan, a 55-year-old single mother who had her daughter when she was 35. The father of the child is involved in a co-parenting arrangement, but Susan is not in a relationship with him. Susan’s daughter, Lizzy, is 20 years old. Susan’s father died three years ago, but her 80-year-old mother, Meredith, is still alive.
More and more children are living at home into their 20s. Lizzy is doing just that and living at home with her mother while finishing up her last year of university. She has a part time job, but is primarily dependant on her mother for room and board, food, tuition payments and various other costs of living.
Meredith has not been doing so well since her husband passed away and Susan can tell that it is time to sell her childhood home and assist her mother in finding a retirement residence.
Susan is going through her own ups and downs in life. Her body does not feel like her own anymore and she feels lost, confused and even depressed at times. It stresses her out to be the sole financial support of her daughter. Her ex-husband contributes only a small amount of child support based on his already low income. She is concerned that her daughter won’t leave the house for many more years as she doesn’t seem focused on a particular career just yet.
Susan works all day, goes to her mother’s house after work to ensure that she has eaten and taken her medication. Then she goes home to be the social and emotional support to her daughter, who is constantly complaining about school, money and her future. Susan is sandwiched in between two generations that require care, companionship, financial and emotional support.
Even if you are a do-it-all type woman and believe that you have the ability to take care of your child, your aging parent and support them with all your might…
Even if you make it through this awkward transition time for your child and manage to get them moved out of the house in the next five years and onto their own “adult life”…
Even if you support your parent(s) through the transition of downsizing their home, selling off their belongings, finding the right retirement home...
Even if you do all of that while still applying your lipstick and looking as fabulous as possible, all of this may still take a massive toll on you, on your body, your mind and your spirit.
This is the situation that poor Susan has now found herself in.
Stress, whether for good or bad reasons, is still stress and still affects your body. We are raised to believe that it is our duty to support our children to the ends of the earth and also our duty to take care of our parents as they age just as they took care of us when we were infants and children. As a society, we need to appreciate the way the various generations have made choices in terms of procreation, and how that is going to impact our society as our health and vitality extends lives much longer than we planned.
The young Baby Boomers and Generation X members are just the beginning of the sandwich generations. The Millennials are going to start to feel it soon. With delayed childbearing becoming increasingly common, we’re going to see multiple generations who need care. As author Ada Calhoun has rightly pointed out, “there's a mid-life crisis facing Gen X women, and we're not giving it the attention it deserves.”
How are we supposed to handle this? How are we supposed to take care of ourselves, take care of our aging parents and take care of our children all at the same time? In all likelihood, the person who will suffer the most will be Susan herself, as she places the needs of her daughter and her aging mother before her own, and it will ultimately affect her own aging process.
So then, let’s fast forward another 20 years. Susan is now 75 years old and her mother has since passed away. Lizzy is now 40-years-old and has two toddler children of her own. Susan should have been taking care of herself through her 50s and 60s to ensure that she would live a long and healthy life. However, she didn’t get the chance. She was so focussed on taking care of her own elderly mother, as well as a young adult child, that she never took care of herself. So now we find her, at 75, her body and mind more like that of an 85-year-old, and her own 40-year-old daughter is struggling to look after her two young children and support her mother as well. Susan has passed her own sandwich-generation plight onto her daughter. This will just continue to be an issue with each generation that comes one after another if we do not address the way in which we are supporting our families.
Let’s say Susan walked into Viive’s office and asked for support. What support could be provided to her? We can talk to her about Personal Support Workers and caregivers who could assist her mother so that she wouldn’t have to be there as often. We can ensure that her mother, if still lucid and capable to do so, has in place a Will, Power of Attorney for Personal Care and Continuing Power of Attorney for Property.
We can listen, support, encourage, listen again, and then listen some more. We can recommend that she talk openly with her daughter about the stress of caring for her mother and even ask the daughter for her help in this process. We can recommend lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, real estate agents and more to ensure that the transition for her mother out of her family home goes smoothly and efficiently as possible. All of this strategy and implementation can be provided.
However, do you see the big piece of the puzzle that’s missing?
All we can really do to support Susan personally, is listen to her. We can alleviate some “symptoms” of the stress, but not all of it. The main issue is that a plan was not put in place before her mother reached the age of 80. If Susan is stressed and anxious, so too will Lizzy and Meredith feel this way. It’s a ripple effect. If the person who is emotionally regulating and supporting others is not emotionally regulated and secure herself, her own stress and anxiety will “rub off” on those around her. As soon as something happens to Susan, it’s like dropping a stone in a lake. It ripples out and it hits all the other people in her life, including the two members of two very distant generations, that require her attention and support.
Women take on the brunt of all family-relations issues. They are most commonly the child taking care of a parent instead of their brothers. They may not get appointed as POAs, but you can bet that they are the child who visits the most, inconveniences themselves to support their aging parents and receives little to no support in the process. Women are strong, self-sufficient, empathetic, supportive beings who deserve to take care of others and themselves to the best of their ability. Society needs to start supporting women (and men) better in this process and we need to figure out how to do it soon.
We owe it to future generations to change our society’s Canadian-style norm of not talking about money, aging and death. Take a minute to imagine what will happen if we don’t.