The working mother’s nightmare is child-care. At 62, I still suffer from post-traumatic episodes of flashbacks about the difficulty of finding and keeping good caregivers for my children. I’ve blocked remembering just how many nannies/babysitters I hired. I felt like I’d been electrocuted each time one of them left abruptly. A few were actually reliable and didn’t quit without notice; a few had decent cars that did not pollute the car pool line at school; one or two weren’t arguing with boyfriends or estranged husbands. Then there were the others…like Debbie, whose brother-in-law was the head of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. (Hers was the shortest employment tenure) The security of knowing your children are safe and well cared for and the ability to get to your office on time each morning is… well, let’s just say it… priceless! Featured on CBS Sunday Morning this week was a story entitled, “Boomer Grandparents Play Mom and Dad Part-Time”. Leslie Stahl reported that the cost of childcare often exceeds the cost of college, and boomer parents are stepping in to help. Former President of Wheaton College, Tish Emerson, is now a “granny nanny” (Leslie Stahl’s term, not mine) for twin grandchildren who say she is critical to their lives, taking them to skating practice, feeding them, and offering her apartment for homework time. As a busy college president she says she missed many of these experiences with her own children. Emerson confessed she needs her grandchildren as much as they need her. “It’s a chance to see things develop with your grandchildren you were unable to do with your own kids, working full time. It’s kind of a second life, a second chance. When you are a working parent, time is your enemy. When you are a grandparent, time is different and you are able to be more relaxed.” Stahl writes in her new book, Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science Of the new Grandparenting, “The definition of being a grandmother is pure joy, unconditional love. Loving them for who they are not what we want them to be. Not loving them for what jobs they are going to have, just the mere joy of being in the same space with them.” I’m of two minds after watching this segment. First, I could not agree more that being in the presence of my grandchildren is pure unadulterated joy. I’m also struck by the devotion of Baby Boomers to their children. In prior posts I’ve dubbed us the “Tweener” Generation, sandwiched between parenting adult children and caring for aging parents. Now we are taking care of our grandchildren. I’m a bit in awe of the fact Baby Boomers have been and are caregivers to three generations, sometimes simultaneously. I suspect, though, caring for this latest generation will be the most fun.
Caregivers Living In Color
I’m a big fan of the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA). Their mission statement says they are dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging. Anyone who has engaged in even a cursory read of the Be Brave. Lose the Beige blog knows I’m a huge proponent of creative expression. Studies have demonstrated participation in the arts promotes physical and mental health, particularly among aging adults. I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the Creative Caregiving Initiative at the Arts and Wellness Symposium last fall in Orlando. The NCCA has developed an online caregiver toolkit. The toolkit contains artistic exercises for caregivers and their loved ones. Part of the focus is respite for the caregiver. This was the brain-child of Margie Pabst, of the Pabst Foundation for the Arts. She says, “The life of a caregiver is often filled with isolation, loneliness, stress and depression with patches of sunlight and hope. We saw the arts as a beacon of hope.” While this initiative is targeted primarily to caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders, I see its application for caregivers of all shapes and forms. As Baby Boomer women, it feels like we have been caring for others our whole lives. We are truly the “tweener” generation, sandwiched between parenting our adult children and tending to aging parents. I know my mother cared for me and loved me but I'm not sure she hoisted my emotional traumas on to her shoulders in the same way we do with our children. Or perhaps, we just did not share them in the same way we have encouraged our children to share theirs. We looked them in the eyes all those years ago and said things like, "you can tell me anything. ". In many instances we would have gladly assumed their cares rather than witnessing their struggles. My daughter recently underwent a very real trauma. While intellectually I know the experience was more difficult for her, I don't know if it could have been that much greater considering the extent to which I felt her pain. Living in another state made access more difficult so there were many telephone calls, plane trips, Face-time sessions, and any other means of communication. Creativity was an integral part of our care exchange. A shopping cart at Michaels Craft Store was loaded with clay, buttons, paint, and canvasses. An entire day was devoted to creating. It really did not matter what, it was the process of creating. Hallmark holiday movies accompanied our sculpting and scrapbooking. My family room assumed an art studio with bits of paper, Fimo clay, and glitter strewn about. So what! Cleaning only took minutes. The process and products will last in our hearts forever.
This post launches a new category of blog posts for Be Brave. Lose the Beige. As a 62 year old Baby Boomer married to a 66 year old Baby Boomer, I’m fairly convinced many of us in this age cohort will be facing caregiving duties at some point. Now, you might be saying, “Wait a minute…I’m already caring for an aging parent.” Others might say, “I’m integral to the care of my grandchildren”. And still another might add, “I’m caring for my aging parent and my grandchildren”. My question is, “When in our lives have we not been care givers?” Caring for others has kind of been the MO (modus operandi/method of operation) of our generation, particularly for women. We have been hyper involved in the care of our kids, including our adult kids. Thirty-one percent of Boomers have simultaneously supported and cared for older and younger family members. (The Boomer Generation can truly be dubbed the “Tweener Generation” sandwiched as we have been between parenting children and caring for aging parents. This clay pickle-impaled figure illustrates this predicament since 60% of caregivers in this country are women) It’s a good thing our generation enjoyed sex, drugs, and rock-in-roll in our youth because our adulthood has and will be fraught with a considerable amount of responsibility. While I know we are up to the challenge, I wonder if we have really paused to consider how we feel about caring for our spouse/partner? The Conversation Project is a website that encourages these kind of hard conversations with our partners. They believe the place to begin these conversations is at the kitchen table—not in the intensive care unit. I fully disclose I am not an authority on aging (excepting my own experiences). I am not a geriatrician or social worker. I am, however, an aging baby boomer who blogs about issues facing other Lady Boomers. I offer tips for living in color, even, or, especially in the midst of hard times. Losing the beige is not just about color, it’s about empowering the spirit. I suspect our spirits might need some bucking up as we face inevitable health changes. While health changes may be inevitable, our attitudes toward these changes can help invigorate our spirits. Creativity is at the core of BBLB. I sometimes feel like a creativity evangelist, so persuaded am I of the health benefits. Creativity is not just about participating in the visual or performing arts. It’s a way of thinking about and approaching one’s life, a way of viewing the world. It’s doing mundane things in a novel way. Even a little creative thinking can produce seismic changes in our lives. Each week BBLB will post a blog targeted to current and future caregivers. Using the metaphor of color and sometime tongue-in-cheek art, BBLB will post living in color tips encouraging caregivers to exercise their creativity as a way to promote personal wellness and brain health. The goal is to help improve the overall quality of life for caregivers. Happy creating….