The dilemmas of an immigrant sandwich generation

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Every generation feels the pressure of caring for their aging parents and growing kids at the same time. Having said that, being the sandwich generation can be even tougher on immigrants. Both those that have their parents here with them as well as the others that have left them behind in the home country.

For those that have their elderly living with them in Canada, life is a constant struggle. Establishing your roots and career while providing for the family, being there for the kids and caring for dependent seniors is not easy. Added to this mix are the cultural, linguistic and lifestyle differences, the age-old generation gap and above all, the lack of a support system. Even well-settled immigrants find it incredibly overwhelming to manage this scenario.
What separates us from the Canadian sandwich generation? Mostly, its senior alienation and dependency.

Having immigrated in their retirement years, the elderly find it difficult to assimilate and are often unable to get around or manage their needs independently as they might have in their home country.

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This increases the pressure on their caretakers. The worry of leaving a parent with deteriorating mental and physical capabilities alone at home interferes with work, social life and relationships, leading to frustration on both the professional and personal levels. Often, it’s a coin toss between partners and even their school-going kids when a situation calls for someone to be at home.

Taking time off for doctor’s visits or to stay home with ailing parents and children (and when you too eventually get sick from all the physical and mental stress) or to deal with a panic call could put your job and career on the line.
Several immigrant families are faced with this reality everyday. Paying for a caregiver is simply not an option when the budget has to accommodate the mortgage, post-secondary education as well as all other household needs.
For those whose aging parents are far away in the Indian sub-continent or elsewhere, it’s just as challenging. You’re not there when they need you. How many times neighbours, relatives and friends step in? Guilt gnaws at you! But you’re stuck between two worlds. The family here and there. A slow economy and lack of jobs rarely allows you the vacation time you might need to care for or spend with them.

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Age and health permitting, you could bring them over too… That would quell the dread when the phone rings at night. But it would put you in the other boat which is only slightly better.

They are physically here with you but have left their hearts and minds behind. Loneliness and depression can cause them to age faster, interfere with their health and become aggressive or cranky. It’s a vicious cycle. And being there (at home with them) rarely compensates for the lack of meaningful relationships and social activities which are essential to their well-being.

Both you (and they) can’t help but wonder if they were better off in their homeland.

I feel the pain of leaving a parent behind, just as many of my friends and other immigrants do. The distance is excruciating and guilt of abandoning them weighs heavily each time you see them. Judging from the experience of others who have not made it on time, moved back temporarily to care for an ailing parent or transfer them to a nursing home praying they are in good hands–it’s not going to be easy when that call comes.

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Let’s face it–this is the sad reality and high price of emigrating!

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