It’s the question that every generation of women has to contend with for themselves: can we ever “have it all”? Is it possible to have both a successful career and a harmonious home life?
The answer that Gen X women grew up with was: yes. They could have it all — but in order to do so, they were going to have to wait a little bit longer to have kids. So many of them followed suit: they put their careers first, and once they felt they were well established and secure, they turned their focus to starting a family.
This has led to some major changes in the structure of the average Canadian family. As of about a decade ago, it’s become more common for Canadian women to have children in their late thirties than in their early twenties.
I am a huge supporter of women “having it all.” But in our conversations about “having it all,” we’ve overlooked something important: the way that Gen X women are being sandwiched between their parents and their kids.
Here’s what I mean by that. 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. That means that many women of this generation are still going to be caring for children at the same time that their parents start to require more support.
Let’s illustrate this with a hypothetical example.
Case Study: Susan
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: living at home with her mother while finishing up her last year of university. She has a part-time job, but is primarily dependent 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.
On top of all of this, 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, then goes to her mother’s house after work to ensure she’s 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 between two generations that require care, companionship, and financial and emotional support. And there’s no structure in place to support her.
Gen X: The Sandwich Generation
Even if you are a do-it-all type of woman…
Even if you believe that you have the ability to take care of your child and 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 5 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, and 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.
The toll of being a sandwich caregiver
Stress takes a toll on our bodies, regardless of what’s causing it. And for many Gen X women, the reality is that there’s no reprieve in sight. Older generations are living longer and longer, while skyrocketing costs of living are keeping Gen Z at home well into adulthood.
We are raised to believe that it is our duty to support our children to the ends of the earth. And also that it’s our duty to take care of our parents as they age, just as they took care of us when we were infants and children. All of that may be well and good — but many Gen X women don’t have sources of support for themselves. They’re working double shifts as caregivers, burning the candle at both ends but getting nothing back.
And it doesn’t end with them. Gen X (not to mention some younger Baby Boomers) 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 midlife crisis facing Gen X women, and we're not giving it the attention it deserves.”
How our children will pay the price
How are we supposed to handle this? How are we supposed to take care of ourselves, our aging parents, and 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. Ultimately, this will 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 2 toddlers 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 focused 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. Lizzy is struggling to look after her 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.
A better way forward
Let’s say Susan walked into Viive’s office and asked for support. What could we do to help 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 our Trusted Partners to support Susan and her family on multiple fronts, including lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, real estate agents, and more. With a full team on her side, Susan can ensure that her mother’s transition into retirement living goes as smoothly 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 members of distant generations.
At Viive, we’re here to help you protect yourself and your family from this vicious cycle. You don’t have to shoulder the burden of caregiving alone — and neither do your children, or their children after them.
We’ll help you put together an Aging & End of Life Plan that can meet your and your relatives’ needs. Nobody has to suffer to ensure that your older relatives and children are taken care of. All it takes to get started is a quick call with us.
A better future for our kids
Women take on the brunt of all family-related issues. Most often, daughters are the ones to act as caregivers to aging parents. They may not be appointed as their parents’ POAs, but you can bet that they are the ones who are visiting most often, inconveniencing themselves to support their aging parents, and receiving little to no support in the process.
Women are strong, self-sufficient, empathetic, supportive beings who deserve to take care of others and themselves. 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.