Family Relationships

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

With Halloween just around the corner, who would you want to be? What costume would you wear? What would your mask reflect? How would you act - and how is that different from how you usually are?

Who said Halloween is just for children - bring out the kid in you and do something playful. As a member of the Sandwich Generation, you deserve to treat youself to a special day.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Last week we began to talk about ways to connect with your aging parents and perpetuate the values they hold dear. Here are some more suggestions to guide you in this process.

Talk with your parents about their past and the stories of their lives. Their tales will become a part of how you remember them. Through you, the history of your parents will be preserved from generation to generation. Look through their old photographs and listen to the memories they evoke. Video tape these conversations to have a lasting visual and oral record of them. View these family photos and videos as a slice of life - a gift for the future to be enjoyed by your children and grandchildren. Sarah loved seeing the pictures of her mother as a teenager, having fun with her friends at the beach. "Mom always worked so hard – she had two jobs when we were little – and I think it aged her tremendously. My children see her only as very old and infirm. When I show them pictures of her as a girl, full of energy and enthusiasm, she seems more real to them."

Identify what you consider to be your parents' personal strengths and talk with them about the strengths they remember in their own parents. Create a family strengths tree, focusing both on strengths that have been passed down and on those that are unique to each family member. You will have a concrete visual profile of your ancestors' virtues to guide you and your children. Toby recalled the impact that her father's character had on her. “He taught me so much about how to be a good human being just by the way he treated everyone around him. I try to live up to his standard of morality every day in the way I live my life.”

Consult with books or Internet websites to help your parents create an ethical will. Your family will be enriched by their legacy - knowing what they believed in, their values and rituals, and how they lived their lives. Remaining emotionally open during this interactive process can help you better understand your parents as well as yourself and your own personal goals. Shortly before he died, Lynn and her father wrote down some of his thoughts and answers to the questions they had discussed. Now when she feels troubled, she spends time rereading her journal. “Dad lived to age 92. He is always in my mind and I have the words we wrote together to ground me. He was the only one who could make me feel stronger, and I always think about the way he would want me to handle myself in difficult situations.”

Going through the process with your aging parents may even give you a head start on thinking about your own ethical will. What values do you want to pass on to your children? How can you role model these for them today? How can you live your life now as if these values really are important to you? How you answer these kinds of questions to yourself can help you create your own legacy of meaning for your children and grandchildren over the next decades.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Several people have written in about how complex it is to be asked to care for an aging parent who has been, and continues to be, difficult. One woman expressed her anguish this way, "My mother is now and always has been self-centered and hard to live with. Now she is old and miserable to be around. I don't want to put my self into that toxic situation." Another writes about her 83 yr old mother who is a recovering alcoholic. "It is still hard for me - the feelings I have carried of the neglect and abuse I went through as a child. I try not to focus on what she did or didn't do but on what I can do for myself." When your parent has not been there for you growing up, how do you come to terms with comforting them in their old age? How do you protect yourself and honor your own needs while doing what you think is appropriate to ease their pain? You may be struggling with these questions yourself or have an easier time setting boundaries. As you look back over your parents' lives, consider what positives are there and what you want to carry forward from them.

As a Baby Boomer member of the Sandwich Generation, perhaps you have already had talks with your aging parents about their wills, beneficiaries, and advanced medical directives for hospital care. But have you discussed an ethical will or the legacy of meaning they wish to leave behind? As parents grow older, it becomes more important to them to be remembered for the life lessons they taught than for the material gifts they leave behind.

Rachel remembers her first experience with just such a legacy. "My mother-in-law was a wise woman. Although she wasn't able to continue her education beyond high school, her understanding of people rivaled that of any psychologist. She raised my husband, a sickly boy, to be self-confident and to strive for the best. She gave all of her grandchildren unconditional love and support. And she never questioned my place in our family. But I think her wisdom was most valuable to all of the family after she learned that her cancer had metastasized. Before she died, she had long private talks with each one of us, never shying away from the truth, even with her grandchildren. She wanted to leave a lasting personal legacy with every member of her family and a final expression of her love for each of us. I am still strengthened by the memory of my final talk with her, even today."

What can you do to help create a legacy of meaning within your own family? Try this to get started and we'll talk about some more ideas next week:

Spend quality time talking with your parents about the values that are important to them. Ask them specific questions about what ethics have guided them through the years. You probably know some of these answers from having observed them and their role modeling, but the conversations can be further enlightening. As Mimi cared for her mom when she was at the end stages of heart failure, they had long conversations deep into the night. Mimi grew to appreciate her mother as never before. “I used to criticize her for being so frugal. I now realize she was afraid she wouldn’t have enough money to survive. I decided to use the small inheritance she managed to save for me in a way she would appreciate. I’ve opened college bank accounts for the children of my brother, who is struggling financially. I am proud that I can honor my mom in this way.”

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

We have received several interesting comments to our recent blogs, two of which we want to highlight today. They represent the range of issues we Boomer Sandwich Generation women are dealing with these days.

Audrey, a college admission counselor, knows that when our offspring leave for college, we parents have many reactions to the empty nest - sadness, relief, loneliness, satisfaction, the realization that our hands-on parenting days are over. We also have more of a valuable commodity, free time. She has created a program which takes advantage of the increased availability of our time, energy and interests. Through her new program called "Back to College for a Day," she has organized interesting lectures on a variety of topics by Los Angeles area professors. If you want more information about her program, set for October 27, 2007, visit her website at

Then there is the other end of the spectrum.

Concerning our interview with Carol O'Dell, one woman expressed the complex challenges of caring for an emotionally difficult aging mother while still trying to honor the needs of her own family. As she put it, "I feel badly for her but am not prepared to put the quality of my family life on the line."

Just as in the aptly named children's game, tug-of-war, we may feel like we are in a battle zone - pulled simultaneously from both sides and stretched to the limit in the middle. It is a struggle for each of us to sense our own breaking point – which we must do if we are to learn how to protect ourselves for the long haul. It's not easy to put limits on the connection with your aging parents, but you may need to place that relationship in the context of the rest of your life. Trust yourself as you design a plan that works for all of you, yourself included.

Let us know how you are grappling with these same kinds of issues in your own extended family - we can all learn from each other.

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