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Making it Work in the Sandwich Generation

Q: My mother is moving in with our family and there are going to be a lot of changes, starting with two of our four kids sharing a bedroom. I can feel the resentment building up already. Any suggestions for making the best of this situation?

A: This is an issue that is coming up with more frequency at our parenting center. Living in the sandwich generation, you are in the middle of caring for your children, as well as for a parent who has become less independent, either physically or financially.

For a three-generation household to function well, ground rules are important.These should be established before your mother moves in. You might want to start with the financial issues such as who pays for what, will she contribute to the purchase of additional groceries or a cleaning service to help with extra housework, and will she pay rent? Your mother may require additional help such as an aid or nurse. If so, who will pay for these services? It can be uncomfortable discussing these things, but in order to prevent issues from arising later, better to get this resolved up front.

Next, discuss issues that concern the children. Your mother needs to know that discipline is up to you, the parents. She should not impose limits nor should she undermine your rules when it comes to the children.

In terms of the kids, change is always difficult. They may resent having to share a room initially but in time they should get over this. What they gain is the opportunity to have a closer relationship with a beloved grandparent as well as the chance to learn to be more tolerant and compassionate.Perhaps Grandma could teach the children a new skill such as sewing, cooking, or how to play bridge. A shared interest can be a great way to strengthen a bond.

Of course, every family is different and made up of individual personalities. If you have never had a close relationship with your mother, I would not expect living together to change that. Before you take this big step, you and your mother need to do some soul-searching to determine if this is the best move for all of you.

If you move forward, you might want to look at some ways to lessen the possibility of major conflict. There is a family in my neighborhood who shares care with a sister who lives out of state. Grandma spends winters in Florida with one sibling and summers here in Richmond. This way everyone gets to have the pleasure of Grandma’s company but she never overstays her welcome. If this is not feasible, do make sure that you have plenty of together time with your nuclear family.Think about taking a family vacation with the just six of you – perhaps doing something very active that an older person wouldn’t be up for in the first place. Find someone who can stay with Grandma if she is not able to care for herself.

It is important that all members of the family communicate so that tensions do not build up to the point where someone blows. Allow your children and spouse to express any resentment and then search for creative solutions. Sometimes a family or elder counselor can be of great help.Remember that life transitions take time.Give everyone six months to adjust. If after a reasonable period of time, things just don’t seem to be working, then you may need to re-evaluate. Please take care of yourself. You are the ingredient that holds this sandwich together. Make time for yourself – exercise and spend time with friends and your partner.

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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