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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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It’s Time For Superwoman and Super Caregiver To Retire (Part I)


Many members of the baby boomer generation have now become caregivers. It was part of the baby boomers’ assumed character as young women to be the group that could do it all. We would work, raise our children, and go on to advanced degrees – all at the same time and with no help needed from anyone. Asking for help was not part of our persona. We were Superwoman. Our daughters, growing up in our homes, must have thought we were crazy. Many of this generation, to their credit, involve their husbands in parenting and housekeeping. Those who can afford it have help several times a week, as they choose to raise large families. But somehow, many baby boomers, while admiring their daughters and sons for sharing the workload, still remain stuck.


This is especially true as we become caregivers. Many of us still pretend we can do it all. We hide the truth from our children and our spouses, that the burden cannot be carried alone. We still let them assume we can do it all, no problem. As a result, many of our children have unrealistic expectations of our ability. We regard them as expecting too much of us. But that is how we raised them and as yet, many of us have not told them otherwise. We have not as yet shared the truth and said that we can no longer do it all and do it all alone. Maybe the problem is we haven’t yet admitted it even to ourselves.


As I write this, Pesach has just ended. Many of us are still basking in the beauty and joy of having our growing family around our tables. We loved watching our grandchildren grow over the years in their Seder participation and “shepped nachas.” We loved having everyone together in our homes and around our table enjoying the mountain of food it has taken us weeks and, for some, months, to prepare. We enjoyed watching the children who live far away, relating to their siblings who live nearby.


We loved that the grandchildren from far and near got to know each other, often sharing toys and even beds (or space on the floor) as we hosted our growing family. For those of us whose husbands can still lead a Seder despite their illness, we give thanks for this. And although the fact nibbles at our brain, that it’s getting too hard for us to do this every year, we don’t want to take away the enjoyment of conducting the Seder from our spouses or the vacation away from our children.


And so, we wave good-bye to those flying or driving home and smile at those taking their suitcases around the block to reopen the homes they sold for Pesach. We then go back into our homes to take a few minutes to sit at our table in blissful quiet before we start to deal with the mounds of laundry, piles of toys, rearranged furniture, borrowed linens and days of cleaning that the end of the yom tov brings. We continue to field the demands of the ill partner that didn’t take a break during the holiday. And we pray we will be able to do it again next year. We love it, but it has taken its toll on us mentally and physically.


Over the last few years I have noticed a shift developing among our children who live in walking distance from our homes. Not wanting to clean or cook for Pesach and eating every meal at their parents’ house anyway, many of these children and their growing families just move in to their childhood home with their out-of-town siblings. Believing in our “we can do it all” mantra on which we raised our children and not wanting to alienate our in-law children, particularly daughters-in-law, or disappoint our ill spouses we agree to this arrangement with a smile and start our preparations a month earlier than last year.


However, as the baby boomers age and many become caregivers for parents and spouses, I have noticed a rising resentment in how they speak of the visit once it is over. In between “kvelling” about grandchildren, there is mounting anger about the lack of help from their children, the unsupervised behavior of the grandchildren, resulting in the mounds of broken keepsakes, etc. Different child rearing practices between the generations and the perceived ignoring of parental feelings about order and cleanliness become topics of complaint and are seen by many baby boomers who are hosting their growing families as a lack of respect. Resentment replaces joy as exhaustion takes over. But how did this all come about, and more importantly, how do we fix it?


More on this topic next week


You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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