Do not assume you know what will happen when you add two grandparents to a full house. It is possible, maybe even probable that I thought it would be an 80’s sitcom. Oh, I knew there would be bumps. In between, I imagined my boys would be learning about their grandparent’s lives. My parents would be there to share bits of wisdom with the boys over dinners, shopping trips, golfing, vacations etc… As well, my parents would witness the boys’ sporting events, academic achievements and personal accomplishments, you know, like shaving for the first time or learning to drive. (Maybe I should have higher expectations for my children’s personal accomplishments, lol.)
Two things that are great for a thirty minute sitcom, drama and crisis – not so much for a real family sharing a roof. Anything to avoid unnecessary crisis was my initial modus operandi in our new reality. Expectations, sense of urgency and unexpected new roles proved that avoidance was not going to be the solution for the long haul. Drama that accompanies crisis or perceived crisis impacts our entire home.
One unexpected side effect of having your parents move into your home, their sense of urgency is not always your sense of urgency. And the reverse is true, your sense of urgency is not their sense of urgency.
At first I thought, just an adjustment period was needed. This will resolve itself. I just needed to vent about the moment, then move on. Hmm, I was wrong. Let me give you an example.
It is 5:30pm, all the kids are home from school, getting ready for their next activity or practice. I am at the stove sautéing chicken. A pot of water is boiling awaiting pasta. Veggies on a sheet pan are in the oven roasting. The dog is barking cause it is 30 minutes past his dinner time. Our youngest is sitting at the island talking about his day. You know this scene, it is Tuesday!
In marches my step father. He was trying to find a tool that was absent from any of the usual spots. He was not bleeding. No one was in danger. He was adamant that I help him at that very moment! I don’t even know if he was aware that he interrupted a sharing teenager (a rare sighting) and that I was cooking dinner for everyone including him. I asked, “You need it right now?” A quick and emphatic “Yes” said with a scrunched face. I turned off the boiling water, took the chicken off the stove.
My urgency – Listen to my teenager. Get everyone, including the golden retriever fed before practices/evening activities.
Grandparent urgency – His immediate need. Find the tool at all costs. Literally, the minute he has a thought and or a need (not life threatening) – regardless of what I am doing, I need to stop and find a resolution for him.
When the behavior started, it was originally with my mom. I can speak differently to my mom. Meaning, I have a 50 year relationship with my mom. “Mom, is this urgent or can I take care of it after dinner?” “After I finish what I am doing?” “After my husband and I finish this movie?” I did however, ease into this behavior, after initially “jumping” to her every need. Asking the same questions of my step dad was met with a blank stare or a huff and exit. (Yes, we both speak the same language, English.) Dynamics.
After frustration and lots of conversations with friends, family and professionals, we introduced family meetings. Oh the vision! 7 people around the table, calmly and maturely discussing topics/behaviors that could be modified for a happier home. Are you there with me?
I had a short list – really just trying to set realistic expectations for every individual. After the first few meetings, my parents brought a typed list of every behavior that annoyed them. It seemed during some of our meetings, that my children’s existence was the problem. “Jake did not pick up dog poop. Mounds can be seen from my living room.”
Ohh I knew we were headed down the wrong road and not about to accomplish what I had hoped. Family meetings were now about pointing out every chore my children had not completed or completed properly. I remember the last meeting with all of us, it was clearly not going to be the solution. I told my boys they did not need to attend, the next meeting. My stepdad’s face when we said the boys would not be attending, was clear irritation. As the parents of the boys, we shared that we decide, as their parents what the boys’ priorities are. Homework before dog poop. Seriously this was this big one! (No pun intended). Two grandparents left the table that evening speechless.
They do not remain speechless…Enter next challenge.
My youngest’s room shares a wall with the in law suite. He regularly comes to me and tells me that they are screaming at each other. There is a genuine communication problem when dealing with dementia. Many times I go back to ease tensions. I use different words to say the same thing to my mom that her husband was saying to her. And vice versa – reminding my step father of the same content my mom was attempting to say to him. As each day passes, the time it takes for the pair of them to miss understand each other shortens.
5 minutes after their drama subsides, as a benefit of dementia, it is as if it never happened. I, on the other hand, walk away affected. I may be withdrawn and quiet. I have been known to go into my bedroom and hide under a blanket. These times I am just so saddened by the decline and that I now have a role in my mom’s marriage – referee. I vent to my husband, which allows me to release but isn’t ideal for our marriage. Then my husband is frustrated that his wife is upset. Our family dynamic is directly impacted. My kids avoid me. My husband gives me space. He is reacting to my emotional state and the frustration that his wife is again dealing with her mom’s marriage. It doesn’t help either of us to get mad at the situation or my folks. I can’t. We all need to continue to live together.
What I missed on the 80’s sitcoms – family members in funks. If someone is funkin’ in the house and you can do something to help, do. Otherwise, do not own their funk! I am talking about your parents, husband or kiddos. Lend a hand (not with the funk) in order to remove the unnecessary drama in their lives. If it is as “easy” as translating English to English – go for it! If your parent will listen to you, try. As for the urgency issues – try the “this is what I can do for you now” method. It is exactly what it says, you do not need to say the words. Just let them know what you can do immediately and when you can be of further assistance. Tame the urgency. (This was not my idea, I adopted it from a coach. Thank you Linda!)
The options aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. It definitely is not an sitcom. Do what you can do. It is the life you are living. Take care of you. And keep taking care of “them”. They (your parents, your spouse and your kids) need you!
Thanks for being here with me,
Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.Rachel Marie Marrtin