Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Friday, September 28, 2007

There were several comments on last week's interview with Carol O'Dell, where she talked about caring for her mother in her final years. One reader wrote about the conflict that comes from the relationship with a mother who was always difficult.

Children raised in a home where there was little nurturing often resent the responsibility of taking care of their parents in their later years. Some decide not to get involved at all while others help out the best they can by finding resources in the community or seeking out other family members. Without early bonding and the development of basic trust, these adult children may not have the inner resources or skills to do the caretaking job well. Sometimes they are still learning how to love and nurture themselves. This kind of lifelong emotional struggle can add on one more layer of distress for the Sandwich Generation.

Let us know how you're dealing with the challenges of parents who are getting older and need more support.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming author Carol D. O'Dell to our blog as she continues her virtual book tour and answers our questions about her new book, Mothering Mother.

Carol's memoir is bitingly humorous and unflinchingly honest as she narrates her feelings of the moment — love, grief, humor and even bitter resentment. When Carol's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and a heart condition, Carol's decision not to put her mother "in one of those homes" had far-reaching consequences for her family. She learned to mother her own mother. Her book will help baby boomers struggling with their own decisions on elder care in the home. Mothering Mother touches on what our relationships do to us, how they impact our souls, our beliefs — about ourselves, about life and the quality of life, about faith and hope and finally, about death.

Because you may now or one day face similar choices and experiences when caring for your own aging parents, we want to share with you our discussion with Carol. Here are some questions we posed and Carol's answers. Feel free to ask some of your own and look for the answers here in our blog or visit her website,

Phyllis & Rosemary: How did you balance all your responsibilities to your family and career with the challenges of caring for your mother?

Carol: I learned I couldn't necessarily go by who "screamed" the loudest. I had to assess each need and not live from crisis to crisis. My mother was the worst because she desperately wanted all of my attention. She was actually jealous of the time, money, energy I spent on my girls. I wish she could have felt more grandmotherly, more a part of our family and loving and supporting the children as most rational adults do. But my mother's dementia wracked mind was more childlike. Of course, my husband helped, and I hurt for those single moms out there. We tag-teamed parent--one of us would stay with my mother and one of us would attend an event, go to a dr.'s appointment or whatever was on the day. You learn not to panic at every little thing.

Rosemary & Phyllis: In what ways were you able to attend to your own needs during that difficult time?

Carol: Of course, journaling. I had developed the discipline and the passion to "go to the page," and I truly believe that saved my sanity. I also lived in a beautiful area and simply looking out my window and going for a walk in my own yard healed my soul. There's art and beauty in nature everywhere. Become a bird watcher, grow a small flower bed, feed the squirrels--something that connects you with nature is incredibly healing. Also, my ability to make light of a situation, to be humorous, sarcastic, and even my anger kept me from going under. I "used" it to vent, to get things, done. Anger (not the destructive kind) is like jet fuel. It keeps you moving.

Phyllis & Rosemary: What did you learn about accessing your internal strengths and using community resources?

Carol: I say it "Takes a village to raise an aging person." It's true! My mother's neighbors, community and church kept her independent for much, much longer than she would have otherwise been able to do. In turn, they helped me, her daughter and primary caregiver. So many neighbors and friends were so kind and giving to her. They watched out for her in a myriad of ways.

Being active in church gave us access to many people who volunteered their time and energy to help my mother. In the early months of her living with us, my mother actually went to a separate church than we did. I'd drop her off and a kind lady would take her out to lunch and bring her home. This gave my mother a sense of independence, and it was good for her. Over time, our world grew smaller as her care load grew more difficult and we needed "professionals" who knew how to help if she fell or became belligerent. I'm grateful to everyone. You learn you have to piece your care and help together.

Rosemary & Phyllis: How did your care-giving experience change the relationship with your mom?

Carol: My mother has passed away, but that doesn't mean we don't have a "relationship." She's still teaching me, nagging me, whispering in my ear. I feel more connected to the bigger picture--to the present and even to the "beyond." I do feel her acceptance of what I'm doing. I feel connected to my girls, to all the caregivers I talk to. I see us more as points on a web and ways we intersect and help each other.

Phyllis & Rosemary: How did "mothering your mother" transform you?

Carol: I'm more at peace, less frenzied. I'm grateful for my time as a caregiver. I felt as if I were tested to the bitter edge and I somehow survived. It slowed me down for awhile, tightened my family circle, showed me my own strengths and my family's love.

Visit Carol's website,, to learn more about her book and to register for the contest she is sponsoring. You can win prizes either by attending this virtual book tour, or submitting a photo with your loved one, or writing a short story about caregiving.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

As you consider feathering a new nest that works for you, here are some ideas to get you started. Altering your surroundings at home can even stimulate you to modify your outlook on life. This shift can give you the impetus to explore new areas and discover adventures outside your familiarity. Remember that any process takes time and, by definition, involves flexibility.

1. It is never too early - or too late - to begin gathering information about the changes you plan to initiate. What do you need to learn more about? Speak to as many people as possible who have already explored or gone through this experience. Surf the net and be on the lookout for books you can read or seminars you can take to learn more. Talk to anyone who is in a position to inform, educate and help you.

2. As the Greek sages told us centuries ago, know thyself. Increase your self awareness by examining who you are now and who you want to become. Are your old dreams still meaningful to you? What else are you committed to now? What 'contracts' have you made with yourself or your significant other that impact your choices today? Now that you do not have the daily responsibilities of 24 hour, hands-on parenting, will you have more time for yourself? Do you expect to work, play, volunteer, or continue to explore your options? Keeping a journal will provide some structure as you brainstorm, set new goals and put your plans in motion.

3. Once you have created the dream, let your priorities determine what is realistic. Are you alone in making the decision? Is this change financially feasible? Are there work or personal issues to take into consideration? Are there others in your household whose needs you will consider?

4. Understand that emotional reactions at times of transition are both common and normal. Allow yourself to express and accept your feelings as they emerge. Although you may regret what you have given away, you will also feel relieved about less clutter. Perhaps you will vacillate between enthusiasm about how your new digs reflect the current you and sadness about what you have left behind. Your interest in exploring new opportunities may fluctuate with your fears of the unknown.

As you begin feathering your grown-up nest, be mindful of what you need. Have confidence in yourself and trust that you will maintain in your life what is truly meaningful. While drawing from past experiences, traditions and values, you will create a present for yourself that is rich and rewarding.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Now that your kidults are settled back in college, does the thought of creating a more grown-up nest cross your mind? Can you visualize more simplicity and less chaos? Think about what it would be like to clean out the drawers, give away the memorabilia no one in the family wants and make your home yours again.

If you decide to make a change, it will be an ongoing process, with both positive and negative emotions. This transition signifies the end of an important chapter in your life - the house full of family and activity, of growing children and all their antics. You may mourn the loss of many things, material and otherwise - valuable pieces of history relegated to the attic or sold for some ridiculous price, the hard discs of your past life, memories triggered by stuff. Yet, you'll grow to feel content, surrounded by what is most important to you – perhaps the photo albums that trace your family history, souvenirs from your travels or your treasured books - and all the precious memories that you carry around in your head.

As members of the Sandwich Generation, what sort of changes can you anticipate making? Perhaps begin by just thinking about the possibilities. Next week we'll share some ideas about how to get started.

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