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Family life

It’s Not Easy Being Part of the Sandwich Generation

How caring for kids and elderly parents is leading to burnout for many families

It’s Not Easy Being Part of the Sandwich Generation

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As the family timeline is changing and many people are opting to wait to have children, we are now a generation of people charged with caring for both our children and elderly parents simultaneously. If you have children (even those in their twenties) living at home and you have parents who can no longer live entirely independently, you are a part of this sandwich generation. Being a part of this generation can be challenging in so many ways, particularly to our mental health.

When parenting young children, you know your time is not yours. From diapers to dance classes, the needs of those kiddos always come before your own. Society forever tells parents that self-care is critical: to care for themselves and find time outside the home to engage with friends and enjoy enjoyable activities. As a mental health professional, I often tell my clients to do these things, too, and even try to do them myself. But what happens when your already minimal free time is spent caring for your elderly parents? This is the challenge many Canadians are now faced with.

Caring for multiple generations is exhausting. Many of the tasks a parent does in their own home for their children are suddenly mirrored in their parents' home. Grocery shopping, laundry, meal prep, doctors' appointments, etc., can all become tasks that elderly parents need support with.

How do we do it all and manage our mental health?

The simple answer is we don't. Many clients come through the doors of my practice asking for support with life balance. They list the various tasks that they have on their plates, often including full-time work. These clients express feeling overwhelmed, anxious, burnt out, and, at times, depressed. Despite seeking answers for how to manage it all, the reality is that no one person was meant to manage everything we have on our plates these days. It is simply unattainable, and doing it all is impossible. It is not us; it is the task list.

grandparents sit with grandkids in the kitchen iStock

So, what should I do?

Stop trying to do it all

Get comfortable saying no or that you will get to the ask later. I know this can be challenging; we can feel like we owe it to everyone to make them our priority. It's easy to think of lonely parents in retirement homes or struggling at home and wanting to be there all the time. But is this realistic? Probably not.

Ask for help

Do you have siblings that could be more involved? Can you divide and conquer? Can your spouse take on more of the workload? If there is no support, explore services in your area. Advocate for your parent and advise those in decision-making positions, such as doctors, that they need additional help.

Be comfortable with your priorities

Do you have a sick child at home? Let go of the guilt of taking the day to be with them. Have you planned an important night out with a friend? Go and enjoy yourself, regardless of what your parents ask that day. We all have things in our lives that are non-negotiables, and this is ok. When the guilt creeps in, remember you cannot do it all at once.

multi-generational family goes for a walk in the forest looking away from the camera iStock

Create a plan

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What needs to happen weekly or monthly? Can things be scheduled while also leaving some breathing space for change? Can anything be released, even temporarily, to ease the day-to-day burdens? If you are in a financial position, hire someone to help with the cleaning, walk the dog, and deliver the groceries. These services exist because of the pace of today's world, and if you can, allow yourself to accept this support.

Schedule your self-care

You are as important as any other appointment. Once scheduled, do not alter it unless there is an emergency. We've all heard to put our oxygen masks on first on the airplane, right? We cannot help anyone around us if we are not breathing ourselves. Self-care is not selfish; it is what keeps us going and able to support those around us. Self-care can come in the form of exercise, sleep, time with friends, reading and booking that therapy appointment to feel supported and as in control of your life as possible.

The caregiver role is both rewarding and incredibly challenging. There is no perfect caregiver, but to do it well, you need to fill your bucket first.

If you're in Ontario and need support for this or anything related to your mental well-being, connect with us. www.peacheycounselling.ca

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Stefanie Peachey is a Registered Social Worker and Accredited Family Mediator. She is the founder of Peachey Counselling and Family Support in Burlington, ON.

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