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By Wendy Reichental
I read somewhere that more than half of China’s elderly people would rather live alone than with their children. According to the results, the traditional ideal of family life in China – with up to four generations living under one roof – appears to be disintegrating. In North America, the statistics seem to reflect a similar trend. I unfortunately could not find any accurate statistics on the number of grown children taking in their elderly parents into their homes. Could it be that these exceptional adult children who are willing to take in a parent and offer them an alternative to a senior residence or worse are keeping quiet out of fear? We after all remember poor misunderstood Norman in “Psycho” and what became of his efforts to harbor a parent. No wonder this group isn’t speaking out. Until now…
Why don't we see more elderly parents living with their adult children, I mean of course if they would like to and the conditions are convenient for everyone concerned? For those of us who are 40 or older, we belong to a new generation of caregivers, sometimes referred to as the "Sandwich Generation" or if you are like me and Jewish the “Let me make you a sandwich Generation.” Either way it represents adult children feeling squeezed between the needs of an aging parent and their own personal needs. You see I am said “sandwich” filled with guilt and peppered with conflicting loyalties.
I find myself in the precarious position of attempting to please my husband (best described as Darren on “Bewitched”). Remember his sardonic enthusiasm for his “mother-in-law”? And then, there's my mom - a hybrid of a sweet “Mr. Magoo” one minute and the fiery tongued Sophia (“Ma”) character from the “Golden Girls” the next. At times I find both relationships quite challenging. Who comes first the husband, who you vowed to honor and obey (well, ok, that one is a bit of a stretch, more like listen to occasionally) or the parent who brought you life? Upon my father’s death, I have admittedly developed a more over protective relationship with my mom. I find myself just wishing we could all live like they did on that show “The Waltons”. Here nestled in the far foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, (most probably so no one could hear them kvetching) a household including grandparents, parents and several children, lived under one roof and spent their dinners around a long wooden table enjoying their usual “traif” served with heaping loving spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and wisdom.
In order to create my own version of such collective harmony in the home, rather than have my mom move in full time, which she really does not want to do, much to my ecstatically relieved husband, I have come up with a temporary compromise. I invite my mom over for weekend sleepovers, holidays and whenever I can swing days off from work. The once called “Guest Room” is now secretly and especially when not in ear shot of my husband called “My Mom’s Room”. It’s definitely an adjustment when we have her over. Whether it’s adjusting the TV to a volume that she can hear as well as our neighbor’s two houses over, or adjusting the thermostat to warmer in the winter, and warmer still in the summer, because my mom does not like air conditioning, adjusting our lives when she is over is what we do.
Simply put I would not have it any other way. I welcome my mom’s company and cherish this time we spend together, don’t let me get all “farklempt”! My mom, husband and I, have fused into a familiar threesome appearing at various venues like movies, malls, restaurants and even resorts! This situation may be far from ideal, we do after all get on each others nerves. But the bottom line is that we can offer my mom a change in scenery and change to her routine. And if this means a change in ours, then so be it! And to borrow a title from my mom’s favorite funny movie, you won’t see me “Throw Mama From The Train” any time soon …I can’t speak for my husband though.
from the September-October 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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