SF #023

This material has been developed by and is presented by The Sandwich Generation (r)




by Carol Abaya, M.A.


Note: When three or four generations of a family live together, differing personalities, needs and wants impact daily life and relationships. When a second marriage is involved and the different generations are not really related, the scenario can be quite complex.


A New Jersey blended family, composed of four generations of related and unrelated members, dealt with the various care and emotional needs of a toddler and a confused 74-year-old as well as everyone elses feelings and needs sandwiched in.


This story here focuses on the male elder care giver since he is the one who does the elder care chores. Attitude, keeping communications open and mutual support are the keys to making this family work.



Jim, 49, husband

Joy, 54, wife

Frank, 74, Jims father

John, 18, Jims youngest son

Donna, 33, Joys daughter

Tyler, 2 1/2, Donnas son

Remington, a 10-year-old, 100 pound, Chesapeake Bay retriever


In the Beginning


In the beginning, life for Jim and Joy was cosy, uncomplicated and stressless. Both divorced, they married in 1988. Joys children were all grown and living on their own. Jims three children lived with their mother in Wisconsin.


We were very free, says Jim, a financial planner. We had no real responsibilities and did what we wanted to. It was Joy, I, and the cat. Then everyone started coming back.


In 1993 it was Jims son John who was first to return. He was doing poorly in school and rebelled against everything his mother said


His mother didnt know what to do, Jim recalls, nor did she (a busy attorney) have the time to spend with him, so... Now hes an honor student, taking college credit courses in his senior year in high school.




Joy became a mother again. I loved John before he came to live with us. We have always been a close family. However, when he was living with us, it was different from when he came to visit. It was no longer a fun visit. There have been times when its been difficult to decide how to treat him. And rather than get into a confrontation, I back off. At the same time, she said that Jim is very supportive when it comes to discipline.


The biggest change began in the summer of 1994. Donna, who was living in California, returned home, pregnant.

Donna had choices: abortion, adoption, or to raise him. We all (Donnas father, Jim and I) assured her we would help in whatever way possible if she wanted to have the baby. It takes time and energy, but its worth it, Joy says, with her face lighting up.


In the beginning, Donna stayed with her father, because Jim and Joys house was too small.


Frank Alone in Florida


At the time, Frank was living alone in Florida. In 1968, he was in a car accident which left him with head trauma and dyslexia. His first wife (Jims mother) passed away in 1975. Soon after, Frank remarried, and his second wife passed away in 1988. He was alone until he moved to New Jersey.


Asked how he handled every day living with the dyslexia and head trauma, Frank says, I struggled. Frank reels off the definition of dyslexia and still finds it difficult to accept because he had been an actuary and highly skilled in math. As a result of the head trauma he has difficulty reading and becomes confused in a new environment.


We had been talking for a couple of years about him coming to live with us, but it took awhile to sell the house. He was having a hard time taking care of himself and the house. Then in 1995 he was in another car accident. He couldnt remember what happened. That was when we took his car away, Jim relates.

In August 1995, Frank received an acceptable offer on his house. Also, Jim and Joy decided to buy a larger home to accommodate the growing family. So Frank, Donna and Tyler moved in with Jim, Joy, and John.


Different Needs


In the scope of things, Franks needs are simple. He can take care of himself and doesnt require assistance. He is also a calm person, who keeps his emotions under tight control.


Because of the head trauma, his awareness of what is going on around him and cognitive abilities are limited. But he can focus on one subject for awhile. Frank helps with minor chores around the house and contributes financially. He also pays to have someone clean the house weekly.


Hes cooperative and doesnt fight, Jim says. He had been a brilliant actuary and always a people person. He liked to party and dance.

But in the first year he was with Jim and Joy, Frank withdrew more into himself.


The family encouraged Frank to attend the senior center nearby, first one day a week and then three days. A van picked him up in the morning and brought him home in the afternoon. A hot lunch cost $1.50. Then in January, Frank had a medical emergency.


At the other end of the spectrum is Tyler. With Donna working Wednesdays through Saturdays as a beautician, and Joy working full-time, a care schedule had to be worked out.


Tyler goes to nursery school three days a week. Jim takes care of him Thursday mornings. Its our fun day, says Jim, recalling a recent visit to a petting zoo and the aquarium. A baby sitter, and Donnas father and brother Mark also help out.




The rambling house set in a country environment has a family room, dining room, living room, kitchen with breakfast nook, and sunroom on the first floor. It also has a bedroom and bathroom for Frank. On the second floor, there are four bedrooms and two baths. Donna and Tyler have their own two bedroom apartment in the basement. It also has a sizable yard for Tyler to play in and for Frank to sit and relax outside and help with the yard work.


While the house is large enough to accommodate everyone, putting all of these diverse and unrelated people together required adjustments all around.


From the vantage point of having lived alone in his own house and controlling everything (even though he did not like living alone), Frank says the hardest thing was having to share things. I cant always do what I want. Jim pipes in, Like leave the bathroom door open. Also, in the beginning Frank would get up early, and bang closet doors in the kitchen, which is above Donnas bedroom. Now Frank stays in his room until about 8 A.M.


All agree that lack of privacy is one of the biggest daily dilemmas they have had to deal with. There is plenty of space, Joy says, but space doesnt necessarily mean privacy.


During the day, privacy is not an issue. Joy and John leave early and dont return until supper time. Joy manages the office for her son Marks business. John has to be in school very early and works after school. The rest are in and out, depending on that days schedule. At night, everyones schedule is still different. We would like to sit down as a family, Jim says, but our schedules dont allow it. Jim and Joy attend a support group meeting on Mondays and take courses on Tuesday. Donna works late Wednesday and Thursdays.


Emotional Adjustment


While most men are reluctant to talk about their own feelings and to address them, Jim looks at the situation and his feelings in a direct manner. And talks openly about them.


Its a complicated psychological thing, this elder care. I made a commitment. Its cut and dried. I will do whatever is necessary, he explains.


He admits the hardest adjustment are his feelings about caring for his father whose career was cut short at a very early age.


I was so proud of him, Jim recalls. He was brilliant. Now it hurts. I feel so bad because I know what he was.


Jim says his father was angry for a long time after the car accident and drank for awhile. Frank pulled himself together when he had to take care of his sick first wife, and later he nursed his second wife who had cancer. His anger is still there. But its buried deep and rarely surfaces.


Jim says at times when they go out that hes embarrassed. He looks confused, and he often is.


How does Jim handle this? It wasnt easy, but hes come to the point where I live with it. It doesnt matter what others think. My own happiness cant be contingent on others. It is contingent upon me and my attitude. He quipped after relating the recent medicine incident, Im looking forward to getting sainted.






With different daily routines, habits, likes and personalities, Jim and Joy work hard at keeping an even keel with the family as a whole.


Family support goes a long way in enabling family members, individually and as a whole, to handle multi-generation needs.


Donna has had the support of her father and brother, Mark, who live nearby, as well as her mother, Joy, and Jim. Mark and his wife have Tyler overnight a couple of times a month. So a close relationship has been established there.


John also has the support of Joys family and is close to Tyler. John started baby-sitting for Tyler, while Donna was still living with her father.


On a daily basis, everyone helps and takes turns cooking dinner. John and Donna each cook one night a week. I bring in, says Jim. Jim and Joy go out once a week, and Joy cooks the other three days.


Jim has some, but limited help from his family four brothers, two of whom live in New Jersey.


Six years ago, Jim started calling his father on a regular basis because he saw Frank was having trouble living alone. Then he and Joy took Frank on a sailing trip to the Bahamas four years ago. It was a good experience, Jim recalls, and we began talking about his coming to live with us. I dont think any of my brothers could have taken him.


Asked why, Jim says, First they hadnt developed an on-going relationship with him. Second, its difficult for them and more particularly their wives to deal with him, his confusion and inability to communicate easily.


One brother, who lives in Mexico City, planned to bring Frank to Mexico for a few weeks at the end of March for the Easter holiday. Everyone was looking forward to this.


Does he resent that his brothers, particularly the ones who live in New Jersey, dont help or visit much? Im not a resentful person, Jim says, so I dont think about it. Its not going to gain anything.


It Is Role Reversal


Jim firmly believes in the role reversal theory. When you bring up a child, you set parameters and give direction. You work toward getting the child independent. With parents you also have to give direction, to hold their hands during these times, as change often is frightening.


Frank was doing fine, both at home and at the senior center early this year. Then he mistakenly took four days worth of anti-spasm medicine all at one time. I found him on the floor, Jim recalls. He doesnt remember taking all the pills.


Jim has now become an active elder parent care giver as daily oversight of Franks medicines and condition has become necessary.


As a financial planner, Jim has flexibility with his work hours. So he was the one who first took Frank to the hospital and then to doctors to evaluate this new situation.


Jim works closely with the doctors at the hospital that has a special multi-discipline geriatric program. One aspect of the program focuses on elder depression.


Now Frank participates in a special program for confused seniors, and Jim is the one who coordinates doctors visits and daily care.


While Jim never thought of his father as being depressed, ...he still has a lot of anger that hes carried for 30 years. So I discussed the program with him, my concerns, and told him perhaps it would provide the tools for him to cope with his own feelings. It seems to be working, Jim says. He comes home in a much more cheery mood.


Jim and Joy


While it hasnt been easy, Jim and Joy are making it work. How?


Joy says, Jim doesnt hold on to difficulties. He lets go of bad feelings.


Jim says, Joy is a giving generous person. To her, family is very important. But her feelings build up. Jokingly, he adds, Maybe its an ethnic thing to hold onto grievances.


But Joy is working on this. Forgiving is an important aspect of healing.


Jim and Joy attend a weekly support group sponsored by the senior center. Why do they continue to go?

Jim notes that they exchange information, tips and hints on how to handle things. There are always ways to more effectively handle care giving, he says, ways to make it easier on yourself.


He also notes the sharing of experiences and feelings. When you listen to others you think, I dont have it so bad. Even if there was a major problem before you left home, you see that your own situation is a lot easier than you thought.


To make sure they spend time with each other with no distractions, Jim and Joy go on tandem-bike trips, stop for breakfast or lunch, and just be together. They are also taking a course, their second, in Practical Philosophy.


With the help gained from the support group they attend as well as his own personal values, Jim says, I work hard at thinking in terms of what contributions I can make to life, rather than whats in it for me.





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