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Posts Tagged ‘multigenerational families’

April 8, 9, 2010, I’ll be speaking at Owensboro Community and Technical College in Owensboro, Kentucky. My book, Mothering Mother is their Spring Common Reading Room book recommended for their entire college to read. They’re embracing the message–that when a community cares about caregiving–it makes a big difference.

Caregiving is a community affair. It impacts our society as well as our families. Meeting the needs of one elder can often take a two dozen people–doctors and nurses, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacist’s, the clergy and church members, neighbors, extended family and the list goes on.

But more important, caring for an elder impacts the family. Ask any grandchild who is facing the loss of a grandparent–what it’s like for them and their parents–the worry, exhaustion, grief, and guilt that come in tow. Caregiving can change a family–in good and in challenging ways. Families sacrifice, grapple to find the time and resources needed, and then feel at a loss when there’s nothing more youan do to make things better.

This isn’t an “age” problem. Many teens, college age persons and young adults care give as well. Cancer, mental illness, accidents, and heart disease are just a few of the diseases and circumstances that can enter a person’s life at any age.

And right now, we’re all struggling–financially–to make ends meet. Many families have moved in together and created multi-generational households out of necessity. Loss of jobs and not being able to afford  professional care are just some of the reasons we come under one roof. We pool our resources and do the best we can–we love and give–and hope it’s enough.

I’ll gather with the nursing department, “The Family” psychology class, English classes,give a reading and even do a presentation for the community at the Shephard Center. Many are free and open to the public–so if you live in Kentucky or Southern Indiana –consider stopping by.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my story. When a community listens, people come together, learn, ask questions and begin to prepare. Caregiving is so much easier when we gather our resources and share the load.

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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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Maybe you’re not the one doing the day-to-day caregiving–maybe you’re the spouse, partner, the one who would get “best supporting” if there were an Oscar or some other shiny statue given for “Best Caregiving Award.”

Being the sidekick behind or rather beside the caregiver is a VERY important and crucial role. I know because I’m not sure I could have done what I did–care for my mom who had Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease and lived with us–if it hadn’t been for my other caregiving half.

My husband, (my caregiving spouse) had a lot to contend with. He put up with my moods–my many, many spontaneous, combustible moods. He put up with some doozy mother-daughter fights–fights between my mother and me and fights between my daughters and me. (I’m beginning to realize I was at the hub of all the fights!)

He went with the flow, would order pizza if I was too frazzled to cook (the man can’t cook), would run our daughters to wherever they needed to go–or stay with my mom so I could. He did without vacations, built my mom’s apartment onto our house, picked up my mom when she fell, and seemed to do it with a good attitude instead of a “I’m not getting attention” whine that wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere anyway. I had my hands full and he knew it.

So I decided for this blog to turn to ask my husband, Phillip, if he had a friend who said, “My wife’s mom is moving in and needs caregiving–how do  I support her?”  What would he say?

How to Support a Caregiving Spouse:  (by a caregiving spouse)

  • Listen–a lot: If she needs to cry, hold her. If she needs to complain, give her the time and space to vent. Call her throughout the day. Turn off the television when she’s (I’m using the pronoun “she” but it goes either way)  talking.
  • Lighten her load any way you can: Pick up extra chores. Pitch in. Get the kids to help, too. Look for things that need doing–don’t wait to be told.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s needs: It’s your job to take care of her so she can take care of others. Notice if she’s tired and make her hot tea. Rub her feet, wash her hair, offer to mom-sit, do the little things only you can do.  Consider it family care–not just something your spouse does.

Wow. It didn’t  take him but three seconds to come up with that–because he lived it. He was right beside me all the way. I can honestly say that he was my backbone when I didn’t feel I had one. He wrapped me in his arms day after day after day. He did without sex, sleep, decent meals and even a pleasant wife–many times over. He never complained. He seemed to know what I need and he wouldn’t let me give up even when I wanted to–because he knew deep down, I didn’t want to. He was there when my mom died, and he was there in those dark and lost days after.

Caregiving is hard on a marriage/relationship at times, but it also brings out the best in us. We see what we’re made of–and in the end, we look back at our lives and remember all we’ve been through side-by-side.

Caregiving is one of our journeys. One of many.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

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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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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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Move over, Michelle Obama, cause Mama’s in the house.

That’s right, Michelle Obama’s mother is moving into the White House.

Marian Robinson quit her job 22 months ago to help care for the Obama girls while Michelle and Barack started campaigning. She’s now 71 and a retired secretary and she’s moving into the White House on a “trial basis” before giving up her home in Chicago. While the presidential campaign was underway, Ms. Robinson cooked the girl’s meals, shuffled them to their various activities, helped with homework and kissed them goodnight. That’s a big job, but it was for a big reason.

That’s something I admire–a family that figures out how to care for one another and when it’s the appropriate time to do so. I’m not too worried how she’ll be treated a few years from now when she needs elder-care or caregiving. She’s invested in her family, and love is almost always returned.

The White House will be full again, with a father, mother, two children, a grandmother, and a dog. I like the idea of those old rooms bustling with the sound of feet running up and down the halls, of a grandmother’s stern call to order and the yelp of a dog.

Multigenerational families aren’t new. People used to live together under one roof out of necessity–to run the farm, to continue the family business. In fact, it’s on the rise.

More than 3.6 million parents lived with adult children in 2007, according to census data. That number is up 67 percent from 2000. And in the new economic light, more and more families are choosing to “bunk up” to save on expenses, and as a necessity for those who have lost their jobs.

Somehow, we got away from that in my generation. We got independent, perhaps too independent thinking that money would be enough–or as my southern daddy would say, “We got too big for our britches.”

My adoptive mother grew up in a multigenerational house. She was surrounded by aunts and uncles (her mother was divorced and raising two children on her own in the 1910′s). My mother’s memories are good ones. A large table with lots of food and conversation. She said she felt as if she had many mothers, not just one–and it helped that her mother could work full time and her two children had someone at home.

Times haven’t changed that much. Marian Robinson is an example of millions of grandmother’s who are either raising or helping to raise grandchildren. We need each other. We need our mothers and fathers to be a part of their grandchidren’s lives. That’s how values and stories get passed down.

From all I’ve read, Marian Robinson is going to be a busy woman. She’s noted for her independence and will only stay if she’s needed. She may even purchase a home nearby just so she has some privacy and doesn’t have to deal with the day to day fuss life in politics entails. She’s no where near slowing down and has recentlycompeted in the Senior Games running the 50 and 100 yard dash. No matter where she chooses to sleep, she’ll be an active part of the Obama household and everyone will benefit from that.

It’s not that her value as a grandmother is in throwing in a load of laundry or chauffeuring the girls around, it’s that the children will be influenced by her wisdom and will have that sense of family and continuity that’s so important. It’s easy to caught up in the “doing” and not the “being.”  The most valuable gift our elders have to offer is simply who they are–a part of us. Their life, their experiences, their stories shape and define future generations.

I have seen families take advantage of their elders–used them as free babysitters–and that’s not healthy for anyone. Sometimes we have to say, “No, not tonight, I have plans.”

As my mother moved in with my husband, our daughters and myself, I knew I had to strike a balance. My mother had to fit into our home, and in return, I (we) needed to treat her with respect and privacy. These are the concerns multigenerational families face. You don’t know exactly what your issues are going to be until you’re there, all living together. One person becomes needy, another bossy–someone needs more privacy than another, and…somebody always gets jealous. It’s just human nature and no matter how old we are, we still get jealous or needy at times.

My mother was always a part of our lives, and I’m so grateful that even though she was an older grandmother (she was 74 when her first granddaughter was born), she got right to being an active grandmother. She used to come over and get our girls and take them for an overnight stay as soon as they were out of diapers. They remember going to eat breakfast at Shoney’s with my mom and how proud she was showing them off to anyone who walked by, and then going to K Mart to hold the dolls. She’d buy them something small and even though these times weren’t fancy, they were just enough to begin to build a relationship–and memories. Our daughters remember my mother’s songs, her prayers and Bible stories, her stories–and even her quirks, her humor, her fears–everything that made her a whole person. So when it came time for my mother to move in with us, they expected it. In many ways, she was already a part of our lives.

Just the other day, our 21 year old daughter said she was glad her grandmother lived with us. That’s saying a lot, because she was there through it all, the Alzheimer’s, the heart attacks, and the end of life. She’s now able to measure the whole of the experience and not just focus on a particularly dark time.

What I wish for the Obama’s is that everyone will be patient and understanding with one another during this time of change. My advice, if I may offer a little–be quick to forgive, laugh at your mistakes, value your togetherness, and respect each other’s differences.

Getting used to living together and under such scrutiny is bound to cause some nerves to be razzled. Just as with any family, it takes time to learn to live together. But it’s worth it. There are times when we need each other, and that’s the best definition of what makes a family that I can think of.

In the end, the Obama girls will be surrounded by family, by legacy, and by love.

I wish them (and all of us) the best.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Familly advisor at Caring.com

 

 

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