SF/TSG:  #008

This material has been developed by and is presented by The Sandwich Generation ®

by Carol Abaya, M.A.

Carol’s Note:  Caregivers often ask "how can I do everything and still have time for myself?"  The answer, needless to say, is not an easy one.  Every scenario differs as do the people involved, their needs, capabilities and personalities.

As you read Jean’s and Larry’s story, you may not be interested to learn that so-and-so gets up at 6 a.m., and that so-and-so gets up at 6:30 a.m.  That one person leaves the house at 7 a.m. and another one at 7:15 a.m.

The real story here is how Jean has incorporated common sense time management into the daily lives of a four generation family plus two complete strangers and an array of animals.  By identifying everyone’s capabilities, the "schedule" meets everyone's needs.  Expectations of how these needs will be met provide emotional security to the various "players."  Each one knows how his or her needs will be met.  And just as important, everyone knows what is expected of him/her and how each one contributes to the overall scenario.

In a scenario that could result in unending stress and upheavals, this family finds time to play, to have fun together, to enjoy the simple things in life, and to love each other in a very touching way.



Jean, 36



Larry, 39, her husband


Sandy, 17, their daughter


Barbara, 62, Jean’s mother


Ann, 83, Barbara’s first cousin


Robert, 13, a troubled teenager


Richard, 12, Robert’s brother and also troubled


3 dogs, 2 horses, a chameleon, cockatail, and 2 cats.

*The names have been changed to protect the family, but the scenario and problems are all "real life."

A widely diverse group of seven, ranging in age from 12 to 83, live in a large rambling ghost-visited farm house.  Situated in the middle of 50 acres, the house has been in Jean’s family for five generations.  The house and its representation of history and family is one a solid and stable element in the lives of these diverse seven.

Because of the complexities of personalities and problems of this "Cast" I am telling you more about them here.   By understanding the "cast",  the tremendous organization of daily activities and the time line become more apparent.

The Cast

Jean, 36, works fulltime as a medical assistant.  She is also a wife, mother, daughter, cousin and surrogate mother to two teenaged brothers.

Jean comes from a close knit family, whose parents were always there to help.  Her father passed away several years ago.

Jean and her family are now the fifth generation to live in the farmhouse, which is filled with family history, culture and respect for the past.

Besides working and overseeing the running of the household, Jean handles all the bill paying and accounts for their family, as well as Ann and Barbara.  She also monitors all the different medicines taken by everyone else in the family.

Larry, 39, is an inspector with an engineering company.  Larry’s real father deserted the family when he was two years old, and his mother remarried a career military officer.  He was brought up in an environment where responsibility, order, and respect for others dominated.

Sandy, 17, has severe asthma and misses between two and four days a month from school.  A change in medication has helped reduce school absenteeism from 50 to 60 days a year, to 20 to 30.  Because of the steroids she takes, Sandy is big busted and is constantly picked on in school.  This has negatively impacted her self esteem.  Consequently, she needs special attention and encouragement.

Ann, 83, is a first cousin to Jean’s mother, Barbara.  She has a separate apartment attached to Jean and Larry’s house.  She is a laxative addict and anorexic.  She will do anything to get a hold of laxatives, and portrays Jean, Larry and Barbara as bullies in order to gain sympathy.  She also has hypertension and inconstency problems.  She has no real physical handicaps, but demands to be "waited on."

Barbara, 62, Jean’s mother, lives in the house with Jean, et al.  Some days she can care for herself and help with household chores and looking after Ann.  However periodically she suffers from a muscle neuron deficit which makes her muscles very weak and affects her vision.  When she has a bout, which lasts for anywhere from three to ten days, Barbara can do little for herself.  Then  Jean has total care responsibilities.

Robert, 13, and Richard, 12, are brothers who were physically abused (beaten and burned), sexually and mentally abused by both of their parents and other family members.  Robert came to live with Jean and Larry eight years ago, and Richard came seven years ago.

Richard has severe emotional problems and is on medication to help reduce rages.  At these times, he can and has done physical damage to the house.

Robert is developmentally impaired and has an attention deficit disorder.  Jean and Larry have guardianship of Robert and are special provision foster parents for Richard.

Pets - 3 dogs, 2 horses, a chameleon, a cockateil, and two cats.

Our story here takes us through a typical day.

5:30 am  Larry, who has a one-and-a-half hour commute, gets up dresses, starts breakfast and helps get the three children going before he leaves at 6:15 am.

6:00 am - 6:30 am  Jean gets up, and finishes organizing breakfast for John and Ann.  She gets Ann up, bathes her if she’s had an "accident" during the night, helps her get dressed, puts out her medicines, and gives her breakfast.  She also strips the bed and washes the sheets and Ann’s diapers.

6:30 am  Richard gets up, dresses, eats breakfast and takes his medicine, overseen by Jean.  He leaves for school at 7:00 am.

6:30 am  Sandy gets up, dresses and takes her own breakfast.  She leaves for school at 7:45 am.

6:45 am  Robert gets up, dresses, makes his own breakfast, and feeds the family’s two  horses.  He leaves for school at 7:30.

7:00 am  Jean grabs a junk food breakfast after Richard is on the bus, showers and dresses.  In between she has already done two loads of wash.

7:30 am  Jean leaves for the eight mile commute to the hospital.  There she reviews patient’s charts, calls insurance companies and does more paper work.  Then she goes on to the office, arriving between 8:30 and9:00 am.

For the rest of the day, she interfaces with patients and incorporates social work and teaching techniques into these relationships.

During her half-hour lunch, she calls home to check on Barbara.  When she has to contact doctors or others, she does it at lunch time.

5:30 pm  Because she has to make sure all the tests and paperwork are completed, Jean is often the last one to leave work.

6:00 pm  Jean gets home and makes dinner.  Often Barbara has been able to start it.  After dinner, Sandy, Robert and Richard help clean up.  Then they do their homework and bathe.

8:30 pm  Richard goes to bed.

9:00 pm  Robert goes to bed.

10:00 pm Sandy goes to bed.

8:30 - 9:00 pm  Jean helps Ann get ready for bed, getting her into her pajamas and diapers.

(Barbara takes care of herself, except when she has a muscle weakening bout.)

9:30 pm  Jean can now wind down and take her own shower.  She is usually in bed by 10:00 pm and reads a little before going to sleep.

On weekends, the morning rush is slower, because school buses do not need to be met.  But the children still have homework and chores to do.  In the morning, rooms are cleaned, and the stables mucked.  Jean does the grocery shopping on Saturday, and takes Ann to her weekly beauty parlor appointment.

In the afternoon the children are free to enjoy themselves.  The house is a social center for the neighborhood teens.

A day in the life of Jean sounds "normal" for a large family.   But it is complicated by the special needs of Ann, Sandy and especially Robert and Richard.

Fighting for Balance

Ann, Sandy, Robert and Richard all have special problems and needs.  Jean has had to deal with all of them at the same time.  Jean’s sister is no help in relation to either Ann or Barbara.  And in fact Jean often takes care of her sister’s two children.

For many years Ann was a laxative addict - to the point it negatively impacted her health.

It has taken Jean four years to finally be able to reduce accessibility of laxatives to Ann.  "She will do anything to get laxatives, even though she never really needed them,"  Jean says.  "The laxatives have weakened her whole system and affected her mental status.

"I talked with the pharmacists and stores in the area so they wouldn’t sell her laxatives.  But, they said "She’s the customer" and refused to cooperate.  Finally we got her to a new doctor, who helped get her into a hospital psychiatric program.  The psychiatrist called the stores, who are now cooperating,"  Jean says.  "I have stopped taking her to the store, but she still tries to get her friends to sneak in laxatives."

Ann spends three days a week at an adult day care center.  An aide and Betty watch her at home the other two days.

Sandy has had severe asthma since birth.  Until two years ago she took multiple strong drugs and missed school 50 to 60 days a year.  For years, Jean sought help and alternatives.  Finally in 1988, she found a lung specialist at the Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J., 150 miles from where they live.  Now the amount of medicine and school days lost has been drastically reduced.  "Sandy was way behind her class level and had poor grades until we established the lessor medicine regimen.  Now she’s ahead of her class and on the honor roll."

But the medicine, especially the steroids, have caused other problems.  "The medicines have altered her hormones which have resulted in emotional highs and lows.  Her self-esteem waivers because of the teasing by her classmates, "  Jean says.  "She’s a homebody, so Larry and I do things with her on a one-to-one basis.  We take Sandy out to dinner, and I went as a chaperone with Sandy’s high school group to Europe."  She is also close to her grandmother.  When Sandy was little, Jean’s parents took care of her when Jean worked.  The relationship was very close.  "An integral element in Barbara’s relationship with all the children is fun, " Jean says.  "Four years ago she went on an inner tubing trip with them.  She fell off, lost her glasses, and was badly bruised.   But she’d do it again."

Big Challenge

Two of Jean and Larry’s biggest challenges are Robert and Richard.  Robert came to live with the family eight years ago, when he was only four.  His brother Richard moved in a year later.  Both boys were abused and have severe emotional problems.

At 4, Robert, with an attention deficit disorder, could eat only with his fingers and could not go to the bathroom by himself.  With the professional help Jean has been able to get, Robert now is almost up to his grade level and his grades have gone from Ds and Fs to Bs and Cs. 

Richard has a severe behavior disorder and acts out in a physical way.  He has done major damage to the house.  Jean has also worked hard to get effective help for Richard.  "He has attacked teachers.  He sets fires.  He rams walls," Jean says.  "But we have been able to reduce daily incidents to minor ones a couple of times a week, and major ones to maybe once a month."

Richard has needed a lot of professional help.  Because Richard needs constant oversight, Jean has been able to get Medicaid to pay for an aide to be at the house from the time Richard gets home from school until she gets home. 

"In between patients or at night, I have had no qualms about calling people to get help.  I beat the bushes and never give up," Jean says.

Jean says that Richard needs to be kept.  "He needs hard parameters in reference to acceptable behavior," she says.

While both Ann and Barbara have their own problems and quirks, Jean says they interact well with all the children and have good relations.  "They love Ann," Jean says, "because she always passes on her food to the kids.

"We have worked hard to make the children thoughtful of others and they are.  Whenever they are away on vacation, for example, they always bring back little gifts for those who stayed home."

Jean’s "I" Self

Jean’s day is busy, hectic.  She describes her emotional state as often "being on a see-saw."  Especially when Ann is more demanding, and Richard "goes off the wall."

"I’ve done things for so long, I just handle things as they come up," she says.  "I don’t think about it."

At any rate, she says she thinks with her heart.  "I’m always doing things for others.  I don’t know how to say ‘no’," she sighs.

"There are times I feel overwhelmed.  But tomorrow is another day - a bright one," Jean notes.  "I cope and go on.

"Work is my therapy," she adds.  And she emphasizes she talks with others about her  situation.  Often she shares feelings with patients.  "Talking helps.  Sharing helps."

In between her job, caring for everyone else in the family and feeling frustrated, Jean still finds time for herself.  "I take classes - anything to learn new things.  They range from elder law to  medical practice.  Some day, I’d like to learn how to spin and weave," she says.

Every day Jean finds time for herself.  Behind the house is a small pond which is home to at least one Canadian goose.  "I sit and think about nothing.  The peace and serenity are good for me."

At times she is angry.  "You need to give yourself permission to be angry.  I cry well; slam a few doors; and take a few minutes everyday to step back.

"I think everyone has to have a true strong inner faith.  Someone up there is helping; someone who is bigger than us.  Someone who says "yes, you can do it,’ " she adds.

Pulling Together

Jean is fortunate to have a caring and helpful husband, who changed jobs in  so that he could spend more time with the children.  He plays with them, and everyone does chores together.

How does it feel to be part of such an extended family and have enough love to go around, given the diverse needs?  Larry describes himself as a "normal person who adapts to the situation."  Larry admits he often plays the "good guy."  While he does sometimes discipline the children, Jean does most of this.

Jean feels the rambling farm house and plenty of open space help provide a stable environment.  "We have a heritage here.  We all pull together.  We’re a passionate family, honest in expressing feelings," Jean says, "and we have taught the kids to be open.  We have to keep communications open.  You can’t bottle up emotions."




Jean’s Tips:

Besides the seven members of the family, the house is often filled with the children’s friends.  "It’s not unusual to find a dozen kids here," Jean says, "the house is a meeting place."

How does one keep order amidst all this activity and chaos?

  • When asked what her advice to others is, Jean answers:
  • laugh often; joke about yourself
  • cry well
  • give yourself permission to be angry
  • take time for yourself every day
  • believe in a higher being who gives us an inner strength

And more advice comes through her story as she has told it:

  • set behavior parameters  and expectations for everyone.
  • keep communications open
  • encourage everyone to verbally express their feelings
  • share chores; everyone has responsibilities
  • make everyone feel part of "the family"
  • give lots of love; even if it has to be "tough love"

This material is copyrighted by Carol Abaya Associates and cannot be reproduced in any manner, print, or electronically.