Toasted or Plain?

Written by Chloe Hamilton of Warm Embrace Elderly Care

You’re sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, watching the clock, waiting for your mother’s medical tests to finally be over.  Mentally you’re calculating whether you have enough time to drive your mother home, pick up some groceries, and cook dinner for your teens…or will you be ordering pizza yet again tonight?

If this scene feels at all familiar to you, then you’re likely one of the 712,000 Canadians who fit into the infamous “sandwich generation”.  The sandwich generation generally applies to those in their 40’s to 60’s who are simultaneously caring for their aging parents as well as their growing children.  The term “sandwich generation” was coined in 1981 by the demographer Dorothy Miller, but it has really only come to the forefront in recent years as increasing portions of the population are affected by the crunch of multi-generational caregiving.

Advances in healthcare are allowing people to live longer lives, though not necessarily healthier lives.  The end of one’s life may include more intensive care years, further demanding the time and energy of the sandwich generation who is caught between their parents and children.  The increased life expectancy has led to another possibility—the club sandwich generation (or double-decker sandwich).  The club sandwich refers to people who are assisting their aging parents, while also being involved in their children’s, and grandchildren’s lives.  Four living generations is no longer a rare scenario.

It is now possible for families to have two generations who are both in their senior years at the same time!  The club sandwich can also apply to someone who is in her 40’s who has teenagers at home, while also assisting her 68 year old parents and her 89 and 92 year old grandparents.  A woman in this situation is caring for two senior generations simultaneously, while also raising her own family.

Add to this the pressures of work, marriage, personal life, volunteer commitments, and personal health—no wonder there is concern about the sandwich generation suffering burn-out!  Often people feel that they should be able to manage all of the simultaneous caregiving because previous generations managed to do so.  In reality, previous generations did not experience the sandwich generation phenomenon to the same degree, and they certainly did not have club sandwiches!  Recognizing the unique challenges faced by today’s sandwich generation will help to alleviate guilt and replace the sense of “I should be able to do this” with “where can I find meaningful assistance?”.

Acknowledging that you cannot do it all alone and that you deserve assistance is the first step.  Caring for your own health and well-being is crucial, or you risk injury and illness to yourself.  Managing to eat healthy meals, and getting exercise needs to be a personal priority, not just something to do if you have time left over—because there is never time left over.  Accept enough assistance so that you are able to lead a balanced lifestyle that cares for both you and your loved ones.

Then, with support systems set in place, you can avoid being toasted, and enjoy as many of your “sandwich” years as possible!

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