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Posts Tagged ‘families’

When our home became a multigeneration family household, I found that the clutter factor exploded. I did want my mom to move in with us–I was glad to have her–but I didn’t realize that she wanted to keep every wadded up ball of aluminum foil and every plastic bowl or plate she had saved from a frozen meal! Along with the family photographs and heirloom came ten pounds of crap. Pardon my language, but what else do you call it? Standing in my kitchen and surrounded by more boxes than a U-Haul could hold, I found myself on the verge of tears. How could I manage a house of seven people, two dogs, and a cat? I had to somehow tame the mess, feed and nurture them all–including me. Little did I know that clutter came hand-in-hand with caregiving.

7  Tips to Tame the Multi-Gen Clutter:

  • Throw things out when they’re not looking. You have to. If not, you’ll drown on VHS tapes, plastic cups, and magazines from the 80′s.
  • Create a video/dvd/cd archive. Hire your teen or college kid to scan in your photos and then store–or ditch those paper copies. Make a back-up disk and give copies to other family members. Do you know that I have over 20,000 photo scanned now? Crazy.
  • Create centers–places where things go–and then become the enforcer! All coats in the hall closet–not draped over the chair. Have a homework center, medicine center, library book center and  video game center. Be a stickler about making sure everyone puts their items in the centers.
  • Instill a 5 minute clean up time–and do it several times a day. Everybody pitches in–and be sure to do it before bedtime. 5 minutes times 5 people is the equivalent of you doing a 25 minute clean-up alone.
  • Tell yourself it’s for a season. Face it, seven people, seven times seven. You’re just going to have to deal with some of the clutter. Having my mom’s knick-knacks sit around wasn’t exactly my choice of decorating style, but it gave her a sense of home–and that matters more. Today, my mom is gone, and I’ve completely decorated to my taste–but I miss my mom.
  • Choose one surface that will always stay nice. Put flowers on your dining room table and forbid anyone’s junk/medicine bottles/backpacks/mail, water bottles, etc., fill your one serene space.
  • Your bedroom–your sanctuary. Don’t let your bedroom or bath become the dumping ground. Paint one wall a soothing color. Get a new bedspread and decorate your sidetable with things you love–good books, magazines, mints, pens, and few photographs you love. You may not be able to control the whole house, but your sacred space is vital to your sanity, and to your heart.

Stuff is just stuff.

Family is infinitely more important. But you have to be able to locate them…in the midst of the clutter!

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Holidays, birthdays, other celebrations when you’re having your grandparents, in-laws, teens, college kids, dates, toddlers, spouses and sometimes ex-spouses all under one roof–it can make you feel like you”re a lion tamer and you never know when one’s going to take a swipe at you.  You may be the primary caregiver, or the out-of-town sister, the peacemaker, the black sheep, or even feel like you’re the one who gets lost in the crowd. Families often bring out the worst in us, even when we’re really trying to be on our best behavior. So how do we come together–multigenerational famileis –and  really be together in meaningful ways?

How to Really Be with Your Family:

  • Be yourself. You don’t have to be rude and crude, but also try not to put on a front. Let them love you for who you are–warts and all. If they rib you a bit too much, say, “Hey guys, that hurts. Please don’t kid about that.” But go ahead and be who you are. It’s our quirks, our vulnerabilities, our oddness that makes us unique. So what if you’re divorced–again, if you’re gay, if you have a reputation for drinking a bit too much eggnog or if your housekeeping skills (or lack thereof are legendary) Let them talk. In the end, it’s better just to be yourself. When you like you–everybody else falls in line.
  • Embrace your wild and crazy relatives! While you’re with your family, decide to be with you family. No iPhones, Blackberries, Facebooks. Be present. Give smelly Aunt Gladys and great big hug and make her day. Don’t fuss about the 1,000 calorie casserole–eat a spoonful and enjoy it–or eat the whole thing and don’t worry about it. Sit among your aunts, uncles, ex’s, kids, grandparents and feel the connection you have–the DNA cocktail that connects you–for better or worse–and accept them as part of you.
  • Decide right now not to let anyone push your buttons. If you know someone really like to zero in and dig at you–then don’t hang out with that person. Get up and move. Ask someone to take stroll around the block, play chess with your dad. If you get cornered and they start in on you, open your arms and give them a big hug and say Merry Christmas and then walk away–even if they’re still going at it! And remember, if a good ole’ family fight breaks out, it’s par for the course and will give you something to talk about in years to come!
  • Do something together–play a game, charades, start singing some Carols, play Scene It or Wii. Pitch in and wash dishes so mom doesn’t have to. Or find someone who’s all alone–and sit with them–you may be surprised that they really do have a lot to say.  We tend to fight and nit-pick a lot less when we’re engaged, when our hands are occupied.
  • Find someone to give to. Look for opportunities to give–maybe your grandmother has Alzheimer’s. Get out an old album and look at each picture with her. Many times their memories go deep and you’ll find a connection, something  or someone from long ago. If your dad’s caregiving your mom, then hire respite care and take him off for the afternoon–to a car show or an indoor shooting range, or to do a little shopping.  The gift of your time and ability to touch someone’s life is the best gift you have to offer.
  • Put a time limit on your visit. If you have one of those families that things get ugly as the night wears on, then set a timer on your phone and leave before the werewolves come out to play. It’s better to be with your family for three hours–and then leave with good memories–rather than stay for eight hours and see the ugly side emerge. You’re also sending an important message–that you don’t have to subject yourself to verbal abuse and people acting in ways that are hurtful to themselves and others.
  • If your family gathering is at your house, then take a few “smoke” breaks. You know how smokers sneak out about every two hours and sit outside for ten minutes in the quiet? Who says we need to smoke to take a smoke break! About every two hours, slip outside. Bundle up and take a short walk. Go to your room and take a ten minute nap. Being together doesn’t mean you can’t get away and decompress. Trust me, if you step out for just a few minutes, you’ll come back refreshed.
  • Look for a “God moment.” That’s what I call that one special moment during the season when I feel the true essence of the holiday spirit. I’ve come to expect that holy sacred time to emerge when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s a random act of kindness from a stranger, other times it’s a red cardinal that lands on a frozen bird bath, or a child’s hug that simply takes my breath. We get what we ask for–and if you come to expect life to delight and surprise you, it will.

Yeah, our families can drive us crazy–but we love them, too. Love them for who they are. Be yourself and come together with all your edges, your oddness, your hurts–and spend just a few hours really being with your family. Then leave- with those new memories safely tucked away-before things go amuck!

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This week, I found myself whapped back in a familiar role. Caregiving.

My daughter had a severe kidney infection. We spent 8 grueling hours in the emergency room and several nights in the hospital. She’s now home recovering. It was all so familiar. I felt a thousand memories bombard me–hospital food trays, nurses stations, pleading for pain medication, the night long interruptions and the numbness that takes over, the endless to-do list, don’t-forget-to-ask-the doctor list.

Nothing in me wanted to be doing this with my daughter. But nothing and no one could have dragged me away.

I was reminded just how much you want to care give.

How much it’s just plain ole’ love.

The new fancy name distances it a bit from the real life experience. Caregiving may refer to the duties, but the word, “family” reflects the love, commitment, and willingness that comes with it.

But I did observe a difference in myself. I did feel more empowered–by my previous caregiving experience with my mother who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I was aware when I was in caregiver-mode and when I was in mom-mode. I was aware of when she needed me to be which–mom or caregiver.

I could feel the pull–walking down the long corridors to the cafeteria, the walls, the floor hemming me in, blocking in the worry, projecting thoughts into the future. I found myslef looking out the window, across the parking lot at a senior community center  I often speak at–about caregiving–and there I was, reliving it all again.

My daughter will recover and have a rich and vibrant life–and I am reminded that while it might only be for a few days or weeks, caregiving is just part of loving somebody. It’s part of who we are.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Is caregiving hard on a marriage? It can be. But it can also be a wake-up call.

Caregiving can be stressful on relationships. I wrote in my book, Mothering Mother that I felt like I was a giant ice cream milkshake and each of my family member had a straw–and they were all sucking on that straw trying to get more of me. At times, one would pick up the glass and tap the side, or another would dig deep with the spoon trying to get the last drop.

That’s what it felt like–that I there wasn’t enough of me to go around. Sandwich generation moms really feel this struggle. But looking back, I also see what a rich and textured time it was in my life. Being needed is a good thing. Feeling “cushioned” or sandwiched on both sides can be comforting and defining.

Did my marriage suffer? Yes, at times. My husband got the worst of me. He got the sleep deprived, always griping about something, not very romantic or considerate–me. He knew when I came to bed, I might have to get back up in 30 minutes, and maybe even 3 or 4 times that night. He knew that if my mom had a particularly rough night that he’d “pay” the next night–with a frozen pizza for dinner, or he’d pitch in, do the dishes or take the girls to an activity while I sat zombie-fied on the couch.

But we made it. We got through. He was patient. Understanding. Tolerant. I’m sure at times, I made it harder than I needed to by complaining. We create a lot of our own troubles. He’d hold me in the shower and just let me cry. My mom’s Alzheimer’s was hard–physically and emotionally. He’d wash my hair and towel dry me and I would still be crying. He’d pick my mom up when she fell out of bed or was yelling that someone broke into her room. He was firm when I needed him to be, kind when he needed to be.

Make caregiving Easier on Your Marriage:

  • Be a team. Don’t make each other the enemy. Stay on the same team. Tag team, take turns, help each other out.
  • Don’t both be down at the same time. It’s pretty natural that if your hubby has a bad day at work, you make him a cool drink, you listen, and you encourage him that tomorrow will be better. If he had a rougher day than you did, then keep your mouth shut and let him vent for a change.
  • Not trying to be patronizing to you guys, but my husband doesn’t “need” too much. If I smile when he comes through the door, ask him how his day was–and listen, give him something to eat )–anything, (or ask him to pick it up) and give him some lovin’ once in a while–he’s a happy guy. I’m glad I know how to please him. He knows what I need, too.
  • Play! Flirt! Chase each other around the house and give each other towel snaps. Turn up the radio and dance in the kitchen. You may not be able to get away–so don’t use that as an excuse. Use that sense of adventure, imagination and humor and sexiness right at home. We used to sneak kisses in the laundry room–and it made me think back to our dating days and trying to grab a kiss without  “mama” catching us.
  • Keep that love life going. Now, I know, you don’t feel like it. But sex can be like exercise. I rarely “feel” like exercising, but once I get rolling, I’m glad I did. Do it any way. Maybe you can’t muster that 100% of the time, but your spouse needs you–and face it, who else in this whole world will give you what you need if not your spouse?
  • Make time for each other–every day. I don’t care if it’s a walk to the mailbox. Hold hands and take your time. Sit together and have dinner. The wash, the dishes, the baths, the meds can all wait. Even if you have to sit in your mother’s room and eat  frozen pot pie off tv trays, being together is what counts.
  • If you lose your temper, say you’re sorry. Your nerves are bound to be raw. If you yell, snap, get sarcastic or downright mean–be quick to say sorry–and be quick to forgive.
  • If you’re at the end, and your loved one is in hospice care, then know that this won’t last forever. Your life, your routines, your family traditions will all go on hold, and this is going to be hard, but get through the best you can.
  • If you lose your way and your relationship feels stretched beyond its limits, or dry as a saltine cracker, trust that you’ll find your way back. Relationships are resilient, and caregiving doesn’t have to break it.

In the end, and caregviving does sadly end, you’ll be able to look at each other and say, “Look what we did.” Loving each other through the storms of life–the sweet times, funny times, and stressful times is really what it’s all about.

Sometimes you don’t know how good your marriage is, until it’s been tested. Is caregiving hard on your marriage? Sure. But you can stay together and even grow closer by the experience. Iit can also show you just how strong the two of you really are.

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at Caring.com

Syndicated blog at OpentoHopeCaregivers.com

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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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