Exhale: Growing Together
3 “Baby Boomer” tips on caring for elderly parents
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WRITTEN BY SUZANNE FERLEGER
The Baby Boomer generation, of which I am a member, grew up expecting choices in all aspects of life. We demanded and fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights. We live where we want and with whom we want. Although, as one of our most well-known (almost) Boomers once sang “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Approaching retirement, many of us are finding this adage all too true, as we move elderly and frail parents closer to us or even into our homes, which we may suddenly find ourselves sharing with offspring who are returning to the familial roost.
In ‘the good old days’ multigenerational living was the norm and it appears to be rapidly returning, with astronomical healthcare costs and the dramatic increase in life expectancy. How do we adjust to these unanticipated changes in the futures we envisioned for ourselves? How do we create lives together that are fulfilling and workable? This is the challenge to what I call “the Sandwich Generation”.
In my family, there are five of us kids, and one remaining parent, our widowed octogenarian mom. Three of us kids live on the other side of the country and abroad. Not ideal, and the source of a lot of tension and family dysfunction. After dad passed, the decision was made to move mom to the same condo complex in which my sister lives, a whole state away from where we grew up and mom had lived the last 50 years. This has made things easier for my sister, who can now run across the hall to check on mom, rather than driving 90 minutes to address the crisis du jour, and mom is certainly happier and no longer feeling lonely. However, we soon discovered this situation poses other challenges.
Here is what we have learned and a few tips to help you if you find yourself in a similar predicament:
1. Hold a conversation, or series of conversations, regarding expectations for future living configurations and individual responsibilities. If you can do this before a health or financial crisis hits, even better. It is very difficult to make smart decisions in times of great stress. Include all parties who will be directly affected, as well as those who have an emotional stake in the game, such as distant siblings. If necessary, write down agreed-upon roles or jobs for which each person will be accountable to avoid confusion or miscommunication.
2. As much as possible, assign everyone a share in a family function. Even young children can be responsible for sitting with grandma or grandpa, reading a book together or playing a game, so mom and dad can tend to work or other household duties. And don’t forget the eldest members! Oftentimes they are quite capable of simple chores and activities, from peeling vegetables for the family meal, to helping children with homework.
3. Ensuring private time for individuals, as well as family togetherness, by blocking off discrete periods for these activities is crucial and should be included in your routine. When family members and friends visit, ask if they’d be willing to pitch in, allowing for some respite for the primary caregivers.
Intergenerational living can be surprisingly rewarding, and even reduce levels of stress in a busy household, if planned ahead in a thoughtful and carefully considered way.
As another famous Boomer says “You Can Get It If You Really Want”.