The Good Daughter: Navigating Work, Love and Aging Parents

MELISSA ROWE – Do you ever feel like you’re managing two households? Your first home is the one you live in with your spouse and children. The second? The home of your aging parents. If both these places are central to your daily routine, you’re likely part of the ‘sandwich generation’. This is the population of middle-aged adults who are caught between the conflicting demands of caring for children and caring for seniors. 

According to Statistics Canada, the overall number of Canadians in the sandwich generation is relatively small. But these ranks are likely to grow as a massive proportion of baby boomers continue to age. Another factor is lower fertility rates, which means there will be fewer adults left to care for the elderly. So what does this mean for us ladies in our 40s and 50s? We’re stuck trying to be the good daughters, who are doing way too much at once.

‘Rush hour of life’

For many of us, the late 30s and early 40s are some of the toughest years. Dutch economist Lans Bovenberg put it best when he called this period the ‘rush hour of life’. It’s when the demands of your career and the struggles of raising a child tend to peak. If you’re one of the many women of our generation who had kids quite late, then you’re dealing with marathon nursing sessions, poop explosions and toddler tantrums well into your 40s. And many of us would argue kids don’t get easier (if at all!) until they’re at least 7.

Then there’s the issue of our aging parents. Some seniors may only need a hand with outside chores, like mowing the lawn or shovelling the driveway. But others may need assistance with daily living like bathing, feeding or dressing. The intensity of caregiving will obviously vary from person to person. But the emotional and physical demands are felt right across the board.

Surviving the Sandwich

As if navigating these two spheres wasn’t already difficult enough — we can’t neglect our marriages either. So how does the sandwich generation go about making, well, a sandwich that won’t get soggy and fall apart?

It all comes down to good communication, solid planning, and sympathizing with both sides of the sandwich. It also means being attuned to yourself and your marriage, which is essentially the ‘meat’.

So here are some practical tips to help you navigate this complex time:

Use your support network: You don’t need to spend money on psychotherapy or fancy counselling to find support. Simply venting your frustrations and sharing your burdens with friends or other relatives can be incredibly therapeutic.

Stop stressing — start delegating: Although there’s nothing wrong with you handling the main caregiving duties, don’t assume you must handle everything yourself. Asking your partner for help is a given. But if your children are old enough and capable, take advantage of them too. This will not only alleviate some of your burdens, but will also teach your children the importance of taking care of fellow family members — especially their elders.

Prioritize what matters: Hosting your in-laws next weekend for Sunday brunch may seem like a very important duty. But ask yourself, at what cost? If you’re going to be grouchy the entire time and will only take it out on your spouse, then what’s the point? Make a list of all the things you think need to be done. Then prioritize them in order of personal importance to you. Remember: There are only 24 hours in a day, and you are just one person. Take care of your sanity first. The rest can wait.

There’s no doubt the sandwich-years are definitely tough. But it’s important to note that not all consequences of caregiving are terrible. Caring for your parents, for instance, is a way to give back what you had received as a child. You’re also setting a great example for your kids. Hopefully they’ll follow in your footsteps…and take good care of YOU when it’s your turn to be the bread!

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