My family is once again in transition. We are in the processes of evolving from your basic “blended family” to a “multi-generational blended family household.” As is often the case for those of us in our forties (and approaching 50), we have begun a new chapter – the one commonly known as the “sandwich generation.” At this stage we are “sandwiched” between raising our young children, while at the same time trying to help our parents as they age. Since many of us started building our own families while we were quite young, we now find ourselves providing support (financial or otherwise) to adult and or married children and grandchildren while still having younger children at home.
On a personal level, our daily lives currently revolve around our five minor children and one adult child living at home, an adult daughter living away from home, a married daughter and her family who live a block away from us and her newest additions; and my parents who recently moved in with us. Thankfully, my parents are physically well and have each other and therefore able to have their own apartment. Somehow though it seems surreal that fifteen years after moving away from them, they are now living in an apartment attached to our home and have become part of our extended household.
Multi-generational families are making a comeback these days. For some the choice is made out of necessity because of the unstable economy, for others it is due to the physical needs of either the younger generation or aging parents. And then sometimes the decision to live this way is out of a mutual desire to be full and present participants in extended family life. For us it was a combination of factors that brought us to this point. For as long as I can remember, my parents have talked about being able to live in Israel. Fortunately I married a “doer,” a man who takes action, overcomes obstacles and makes thing happen. Since my parents had a clear wish to make aliyah when my mother decided to retire, my husband undertook the challenge of helping them realize this dream. This was no easy task. My parents were living in the US; we live in Israel, and embarked on a yearlong construction project to make it a reality. Since my husband and I are of the belief that Israel is the homeland of all Jews, and that as Jews it is our obligation to come “home”, we view helping our parents to attain this goal as part of our commitment to “honor” our parents.
In their decision to relocate to Israel my parents could have chosen to move to a city with greater amenities than the small settlement my family and I live in. They could have chosen a more “Anglo” neighborhood, surrounded by people who would better understand their culture, their language and their philosophies. They could have lived in a city or a retirement community with people closer to their age. However, a major motivation for my parents is their desire to get to know their grandchildren. My children and my brother’s children have lived far from my parents for most of their lives. Since my brother moved to Israel before his first child was born, my parents, for the most part, played the role of visiting or simcha grandparents. My older children, born during my first marriage, had a close relationship with my parents up until the time I re-married and re-located, after which we visited, phoned and e-mailed – but it just wasn’t the same as seeing them daily. My parents, now retired, understand the important position they can play in our children’s lives and I feel blessed by their desire to embrace that role.
Change is difficult at any age but especially when you are older; moving to a new country could prove to be overwhelming. From a logistical standpoint living in close proximity to family members who are looking out for your best interest makes that transition so much easier. I suggested that if moving to Israel was what my parents wanted, the best scenario for all of us would be for them to live here with us. Yes, it will be work for me to balance all of my personal responsibilities; my husband, children, parents, home, and community obligations, but they understood that living far from us would cause additional stress and that I would not be as available to assist them. I felt that they could be reasonably happy here and did not want a situation where I would feel torn between my husband and children’s needs and my parents.
What I failed to consider in this new arrangement was the emotional affect it would have on all of us. For an entire year my husband and I spent every waking hour and many restless nights dealing with some phase of the move. My family suffered through the challenges of construction while attempting to retain some semblance of normalcy in our active home. We were so busy that my husband and I honestly did not even have a chance to consider the emotional impact. To my surprise, in the early hours before my parent’s arrival, my husband suddenly turned to me and simply said “I guess starting tomorrow our lives will be changed forever.” It was at precisely that moment that I became conscious of the fact that we had never actually talked about all of the ramifications of this decision. We never weighed the pros and cons or discussed how our children were going to react or how this was going to affect us as a couple. What was it going to be like living with my parents after all of these years? It was then that I felt an overwhelming affection for this man I married; I understood that his entering into my life allowed me to be able to do this for my dear parents. One of the first things that drew me to my husband was his sense of knowing what was “right.” When he believes in something he uses all of his strength and his determination to follow through and make it happen.