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Archive for the ‘boomer women’ Category

I never thought this day would come–when I’d write about making peace with my mother. My mother was difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s not that I’ve ever known anything different. When some people read my book, Mothering Mother, they ask how I could have forgiven her, much less taken care of her. The reason is simple: caregiving is more about you–your character,  your journey–than it is about them.

While my mother was demanding,  domineering, rather self-serving, somewhat violent (I grew up in the day when spanking, whipping, and  even slapping your child across the face (which she did more times than I can count) wasn’t all that unusual–mine was just a bit more extreme), but my mother was also funny, bigger than life, and she ironically adored my daddy and me.

I spent  my 20s pretty darn angry–about being adopted, about her  rages, and in general, just one big hot  mess. Eventually, I got tired of being angry. I got tired of carrying such a huge “life isn’t fair” grudge around all the time.

So, in essence, I simultaneously wore it and decided to let go.

Not because she  did or didn’t deserve it, but because I did.

And in full disclosure, there were many times (teen years especially) where I was not the ideal daughter and she had every right to be beyond frustrated/irritated and  at a complete loss as to what to do with me.

We continued to have  our tiffs and rifts. I still had to stand up to her–toe to toe–and she still managed to wield her emotional  knives and sometimes I didn’t see them  coming and  would once again buckle under the hurt. Still, this formidable woman gave me more good than ill. I honed my strength, my courage, and my faith by having it tested again and again. And in time, as I  married, birthed and  raised children, I became aware that  all mother-daughter relationships are fraught with a tangle of emotions, regrets, and misunderstandings. I  have  more compassion for my mother these days and I ask mercy from my own adult daughters. Yet I know  there will be so much I won’t understand and they won’t understand  until it’s time. Until then I will be their whetting stone and they  will sharpen their axes on me just as I, in turn, did to my mother.

I am finally at peace with my mother. Not in some Pollyanna way. I am at peace now because I am somehow able to open wide and embrace all of it–I can remember and absorb the pain and it no longer poisons me.

I remember the day  I opened Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles and read his first entry:

I am  100% responsible for my own life.

That day I finished growing up (not that  we are ever done growing).

The angst of a mentally ill birth mother, a alcoholic-addictive father, a cold grandmother saddled with grandchildren to raise, being  abused and  being adopted by the age of four to a mother wrestling with religion and force and hardened old and narrow  ways–all of it burned by some holy fire, no more than ashes.

I am 100% responsible for my own life.

Peace.

Only by loving what is–all that she was, that I was, all that we are and will  forever  be–am I now capable of holding us in that sacred and loose place. I can smile and say with  an open heart and wide arms,

“Oh, we’re  such a mess, aren’t we?”

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Boomers and caregiving: Pass the joy with a side of stress. Rita Wilson spoke on the Today Show this morning  about her bountiful life–a mother in her 90’s, teens at home, being a new grandmother, and writing a new column over at Huffington Post/Huff Post 50 about women 50 and over. Her days (like most boomer’s days) sound like there’s more people to love and care for than any super-hero boomer woman can manage.

Like a very full Lazy-Susan, no matter where we turn there’s someone who needs our care. Celebrities in the news are facing what you and I face–Maria Shriver lost both her parents recently (her dad to Alzheimer’s), not to mention man troubles. Having a circle of friends where you can be honest about the guilt, the resentment, the sorrow, the changes, the disappointments life brings, the feelings of never being able to do enough, give enough, care –that circle of friends can save our sanity  (and maybe keep us off death row–or provide an alibi!) and at times may be our only lifeline when all we thought we knew crumbles.

ABC Nightly News recently called me for a quote to be aired on a caregiving report on the “Most Stressed Woman in America.” I’m not surprised she was a middle-aged caregiver. That’s not a beauty pageant I want to win.

And just as we find ourselves we begin to lose another–our parents are aging and disease is rearing its horns. We barely get two seconds to ourselves before we have to step up and make some of the scariest decisions of our lives. Can my parent still drive, live alone, should I move them in with me, into a care facility, should I trust this doctor, there’s so much I don’t know, how do I manage their care when my heart is breaking? And eventually, how do I begin to say goodbye?

Questions of who am I now, and who will I be without you circle like crows.

Women over 50 are strong and resilient. They know how and when to let loose and have fun. They’re fierce, love their family and friends, juggle far more than a set of china plates. They’ve weathered divorce, head lice, runaway teens, breast cancer, hemorrhoids, death and lost car keys–the big and small tragedies that come and go.

Don ‘t underestimate a boomer caregiver. They’re diplomats, warriors, shamans and alchemists. They hear the tick, tick of the clock and it doesn’t scare them–it motivates them. They’ve got plenty of goals but as they age they get off the kick of having to be crazy-busy all the time–being clear about knowing what you want and no longer wanting it all makes for a good life. Health, family, friends, simple joys like holding hands, waking to your favorite coffee, and taking a walk in the woods–that’s what matters.

I’ve recently joined this tribe and their example of wisdom and moxie is a good road map to follow. As I let go of youth I reach and strong hands surround me. I’ve read it’s not what comes next that scares us–it’s the change–that in between time just before we let go and leap. Free fall. It helps to have my friends cheering me on–and holding the rope.

Boomers and caregiving may come in tandem, but so do boomers and friends.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Cooking for my elderly mom was a lot like cooking for a fussy toddler. She wanted to eat what she wanted to eat–and that could fluctuate at any given moment. I tried to make her happy, I really did. Caregiving and cooking is a daily challenge, not to mention a battle of the wills. Little Debbie’s and Klondike bars were about the only thing that would make her face light up into a smile. I used to let it get to me, then I figured hey, she’s 92 years old–she has earned the right to eat what she wants! Besides, I should worry (focus is a better word) more about what I’m eating than what she’s eating!

While I didn’t blame her for going for the sweets, (who wouldn’t?) the problem was, I did the ole’ “one for you and one for me.” Before I knew it, I had gained over 30 pounds! It took patience and experimentation, but I finally learned how to cook and eat in a healthy way–and still fit it in with my crazy chaotic caregiving day.

Tips I Learned About Cooking and Caregiving:

  • Get a couple of sizes of Calphalon pans (not the nonstick type–avoid Teflon for health reasons). It’s quick and easy to pan cook your meats such as fish, chicken, pork or beef–for fast cooking and so you can do several things with your chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.
  • Start the day with a good breakfast. Yes, I sound like your mom did when you were a kid, but it’s true! Not only do our elders typically enjoy breakfast food, they tend to be hungry first thing in the morning–and breakfast is an easy clean up meal. Go for eggs or oatmeal, always have some fruit, and even enjoy a slice of bacon (it’s actually not too bad for you!)
  • Consider eating a hearty lunch–or even doing the whole 2 meal plan. I grew up with retired parents and we ate breakfast at 10 and dinner at 4. It worked out great–and clean up was early in the evening.
  • Take that chicken breast you’re cooking for mom, cook some rice in some chicken stock, add a few carrots, a slash of parsley and garlic, ( found my mom got to where she didn’t like spices that much) chop that breast into easily chewed pieces and your mom has a hearty and comforting lunch/dinner.
  • Take the second chicken breast and chop it over a bed of greens (by that, I mean spinach or kale–go for the hearty greens) chop some red peppers, purple onions, boiled egg, some feta or goat cheese and you have one great salad–mix a bit of dijon mustard with a splash of balsamic vinegar and honey, heat it 20 seconds in the microwave and you have a great hot dressing. If it’s winter and chilly, saute it in your pan for a warm dinner and serve with a sweet potato–and you’ve got one nutritionally packed meal.
  • K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Sweetheart. Any great chef (such as my hero, Tom Calicchio of Top Chef) will tell you, keep it simple. Use a few fresh, colorful, quality ingredients–and let the flavors wow you.
  • Get mom those 100 calorie snack packs for cookies (if you can stop yourself) and keep her snacks back in her room. If she stops eating her meals and is loading up on the goodies, either remove them or don’t worry about it. When you’re 90, do you still have to follow the food pyramid? Really? I think not…
  • Dinner should be the lightest meal of the day. That’s why God made canned soups. Enjoy tomato soup or black bean soup–and follow it with some Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey in it. You’ll feel like you had dessert.
  • Take your vitamin D and other supplements–walk 20 minutes a day (2–10 minute walks are great) keep handweights nearby for a bit of strength training. Along with a decent night’s sleep (I know, not always possible!) and you’ve got the basics of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Think about yourself–a lot. Sounds crazy, I know.  But caregiving takes up so much of your time and energy–and that’s okay–but you’re responsible for what goes on between your ears. Buy books to help you with you. Go to the library and check out some health books of CD’s such as Dr. Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.
  • Pick one part of your body and just work that out. Do lunges down the hall. Do 10 sit-ups (girlie kind, half way) a day-no more. If you like wearing sleeveless tops in the summer, then lift handweights while the commercials are on. Don’t worry about the rest of the package–you’ll have great arms!
  • Eat only what you love–but learn to love the good stuff. It’s almost cherry season and I have every intention on gorging myself  with fresh cherries. How bad can it be for me? They’re only good (and relatively inexpensive) for a few short weeks, so why not indulge myself in something that I love? My new favorite foods are Fage Greek yogart, goat cheese (I eat it on everything I can think of) and a great Riesling–I only have that once a week, but what a treat! Life is too short to fill my body with processed crapola. In the words of L’Oreal….I am so worth it! (paraphrase :))

It’s easy fall into the zombie mind of caregiving–but along with that comes in tow some baaaaad eating habits. Keep it simple. Learn to love the good stuff. And remember…good food, good family times–does life get any better?

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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The new show, “Who Do You Think You Are” is a hit. There’s a reason. We want–and need to know where we come from. (www.ancestory.com is a good place to start) Louis Gates Jr. does a great job on the PBS show, “Faces of America” researches celebrities past and revealed Yo Yo Ma’s family tree dating back to the 11th century. You don’t even have to turn on your television to learn about your own history. Your own elders offer you insights you don’t want to miss. That’s why hanging out with your grandparents, great aunts, and uncles and parents, is a smart idea. It’s one of the perks of caregiving–you get to be around the people you’re related to, and you’ll learn stories, songs, recipes, and family legacies that are only revealed naturally–around the kitchen table, long car rides, and late at night.

Being adopted, I feel equally trenched in four families lives. I’m every bit invested in my adoptive family as I am my birth family. Who they are, the amazing feats of courage, their songs, stories, photographs, and ethical inheritance is truly a part of who I am.

I found my birth family 20 years ago, and since then, I’ve discovered that my great, great, (keep going) grandfather was a chaplain in the American Revolutionary war, which makes me eligible for the DAR. I’ve got lawyers, land owners, ministers, mayors, and statesmen in my family. I’ve found amazing stories of an aunt whose baby died at childbirth and she willed herself to die three days later. My grandmother was married 4 times, and fell out of a coconut tree–at the age of 83!

But what’s even more amazing is not that somebody famous or some war hero is lurking in your DNA, it’s the quiet moments, like when my adoptive mother who had only ever said the “nice’ things about her mother finally opened up that she had been critical and hard. It helped me understand her. I heard the heartbreak in her voice, held her hand and understood something profound about who she was, who influenced her, and why she did the things she did. It brought us closer because it wasn’t a bragging point, it was a revelation–to reveal. It brought understanding and connection.

Now “Who Do You Think You Are” brings this ancestoral fasciation to the mainstream view and will open the doors wide to our familial roots.The Temple at Delphi states “Know Thyself.” Louis Gates Jr. reminds us at the end of his show, “Know Thy Past, Know Thyself.”

These moments and opportunities don’t necessarily come through blood tests and genealogical research, it’s on those quiet caregiving days–it’s the gifts our elders give us.

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After a decade of caring for my mother who had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, then brought her into our home the last 2+ years of her life, this is the distilled version of what caregiving taught me. I am profoundly grateful for these lessons.

  1. To stand up for myself, and caregiving will give me plenty of opportunities to do so.
  2. There is a time in life in which you sacrifice for someone you love–and a time to stop sacrificing.  
  3. It takes humor to tackle the big scary things in life, like caregiving, disease, and death.
  4. Caregiving will inevitably bring out the worst–and the best in me.
  5. Caregiving will change me, but it’s up to me to determine how.
  6. I can’t stop death.
  7. I can decide how I will live the next moment of my life. One moment at a time.
  8. My emotions are my body’s barometers. I need to listen to these cues, feel them, use them as a catalyst, but know that no one emotion will last forever.
  9. To pace myself. Burnout is very real and very dangerous.
  10. I can’t meet all the needs of another human being. I can’t take the place of my care partner’s spouse, career, friends, or health.
  11. Caregiving is about integrity. I have to choose what is right–for me–and for all the others in my life. No one person gets to be the “only one ” 
  12. When I start to give too much to caregiving, it means I’m avoiding some aspect of my own life’s journey.
  13. Caregiving  isn’t just about caregiving. It unearths every emotional weak spot I have–not to destroy me–but to give me a chance to look at, and even heal that area.
  14. I have to stop being nice and pleasing people. “They” will never be satisfied or think it’s enough. What’s best for me–truly, deeply best–is best for those around me.
  15. Learning to stand up to relatives, authority figures, to my parent or spouse, and even a disease teaches me to be brave, a quality we need.
  16. Give up perfect. Go for decent. Do more of what I’m good at–and ask for help on the rest.
  17. Don’t isolate myself. Being alone, depressed, and negative is easy. Fighting to stay in the game of life–that’s tough, but worth it.
  18. If or when my care partner needs more care than I can provide, or even dies, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve done all I could and it’s time for change.
  19. You will go the distance. You will live at hospitals, stay up night after night, weep in the deepest part of your soul, question everything you’re doing…and barely come out alive. Caregiving asks, takes this from you. Through this process, you will transform. You will see who you are–the whole of you. You will survive.
  20. Choose to care-give–then do with heart and guts.

To love makes us brave. To be loved gives us courage.

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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Dr. Christiane Northrup did a PBS talk on the Wisdom of Menopause in which she reminds me that nothing–not caregiving–not menopause is brought into my life to destroy me. It’s to make me pay attention. To love and accept myself more–not less. Over-caregiving is more common than you think. I’m guilty of it myself–at times. I had to learn that I couldn’t fix my mother–I couldn’t take the place of her beloved husband after Daddy died. I couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t be her all in all. And I had to stop trying.

Dr. Northrup used the excellent model of breastfeeding to correlate how we should care-give. Being a young mother is another time of extreme care. We physically and emotionally give our all to birth a new life. In order to breast feed, you have to feed yourself. You use up 600-1000 calories a day breastfeeding. What you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are–all effects your ability to produce milk. If you go for even a few days without eating healthy and sleeping well, your milk production will begin to wane. What a great example. You can’t give out, unless you give in. Your body–and your spirit just won’t do it.

She also mentioned that a doctor friend of hers wrote on his prescription pad to a woman “See your mother ONLY 2 times a week.” Doctor’s orders. Sometimes we need others in authority to give us permission to take better care of ourselves.

I remember one day when my mother shuffled into my kitchen with a scowl on face. She slammed her hand down on the counter and announced,

“I”m not happy!”

She had a “and what are you gonna do about it look on her face.”

I started to smile. Revelation.

I realized in that moment that the only person I could make happy–was me.

We can never fill up another human being. We can’t make up for aging and disease–or for their lack of caring for their lives and health all along. Our best way to give is to know what ways ive best.

How do you know when you’re over-caregiving?

When you have zero time for your own health and relationships. But, but…you argue. If you are getting less than 6 hours sleep, are spending all your time taking care of someone else’s physical and emotional needs, feel like your stress levels are above an 8 almost all the time, then yes, you’re over-caregiving.

How to stop over-caregiving?

Care-give  ala’ carte style. Pick and choose and don’t even try to do it all.

What are you good at?

What does your mom–or dad–or spouse value?

What seems to be working?

What isn’t working?

So, if you’re a great cook and they eat for you, then cook and fill their tummies with homemade soup and decadent brownies.

If they like for you to be at their doctor’s appointments, then build that into your schedule.

If you tend to fight every time you start trying to organize their house–then quit.

But I dont’ have a choice. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Then it won’t get done. Be willing to live with it.

For example, I stopped going to re-check appointments. My mom had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as heart disease. I took her in for her six month check-ups, but no follow-ups. I got her meds and created a structure we could live with. I dealt as best as I could with the emergencies that came up.

I also said no to hospitalizations. They wanted to try exploratory surgery. Really? On a 90 year old with all these conditions? I said no. The medical profession looked at me as if I were a bad daughter, but I didn’t care.

Ask yourself: Does it need to get done? Will it improve the quality of life enough to warrant the work/commitment?

Yeah, some things do. But do the minimum in the area you’re not good at or don’t think it will pay off. Or ask someone to help.

If you have to choose–choose to meet your needs first.

What?

Yep, that’s what I said.

You can’t reverse Alzheimer’s once it’s started.

But you can prevent heart disease (the number one killer in the US) in your own heart!. Go for a walk. De-process food your house. Sign up for yoga. Rent all your favorite funny movies and invite a friend over for a laugh fest.

Sounds too simple? It’s because it is simple. Choose health CARE over health-care. Do what you can, but know that you can’t undo another person’s diseases or problems. Love them, make life comfortable, and give up over-caregiving.

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Thanksgiving is the time of year we gather those we love under one roof. Pass the stuffing, hold the sarcastic remarks. If you’ve ever had your mother, your teenagers, and your toddlers all at one table, you know it can get dicey. No iPods at the table, yes you have to eat two bites of broccoli, and thank you, mother–I have gained a few pounds lately–glad you noticed and thought it worth commenting on!  Multigenerational households are petri dishes for family issues. The best way to combat the exhaustion and stress is with a splash of humor.

Your mother might not “get” the challenges of raising a teenager in today’s world of texting and Youtube. She might have a comment or two about your toddler pitching a fit at Target and even state emphatically that you and your siblings never acted out in public (although you distinctly remember a few incidents). You can either laugh it off and not let it get to you, or…take it personal. It’s best to act like a duck and let the water roll off your feathers.

Change the subject or stand your ground, whichever the situation calls for. Remind yourself that you’re a “good enough” parent. You know how to prioritize and you give your heart and time to those you love. That’s good enough.

The only person who can give you that inner resolve to choose to not let your kids or your mom get to you–is you. For me, it took some alone time first thing in the morning and then a few times during the day. I’d sit in the car and give myself a pep talk. I’d walk back to my room to get something, look at myself in the mirror and give myself a smile. When one of those arrows struck me good and hard, I’d go cry, yell, or punch my pillow a couple of times. What was worse was when I didn’t take the high road and I was the one having to go and apologize. It comes with having too much to do and letting the pressure get to you.

Being mom to two generations–one on each side–is exhausting, frustrating, and at times you question yourself. It’s also rewarding. There’s something pretty cool about being the axis at the center of the wheel. Even though I got my fair share of scowls since I was caregiving and raising kids, (my mother had Alzheimer’s) at the same time. It felt like I was the bad guy all the time. I remember one day when I was arguing with my mom (who also had Parkinson’s) that she couldn’t drive in busy traffic, and then turning right around and giving my 15 year-old a driving lesson. We had plenty of tiffs, laughs and hugs, and that’s family life.  

So if you’re sitting down at Thanksgiving tomorrow, say a out loud thanks for being a multi-gen house. Grab hands, say a blessing, and pass the rolls. Your life may be really full and crazy right now, but you know,  that really is a good thing.

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