By Lynn Willis, Service Coordination
Recently, after over 20 years of living in another region of the country, I joined my mother to live in her home. I found that one of the areas of adjustment was using the kitchen. My mother has been a real trooper about cooking dinner daily. While I would like to participate in the meal preparation process, I’m often not home at the time my mother wants to make and eat dinner. And then there are those discouraging memories of being the youngest in the household of three generations of matriarchs who had their own kitchen protocols.
I recall comments like: “Don’t use that pan –it’s just for boiling eggs,” or “That burner is turned up too high,” or “Does that recipe call for first steaming those beans? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Then there was the chore of getting all of those heavy pots and pans down off the shelves ( along with cleaning and putting them back), when it seems like just tossing some items in the food processor or wok could combine steps toward accomplishing the job.
George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” But today we find more elders and their adult children are living together in the same home, whether by necessity or desire. What goes on in the kitchen highlights some of the challenges and issues that intergenerational families face – such as adjusting to change, sharing, conflict management, and unresolved family issues that may go back in time. When family members are living with each other, these issues are hard to avoid and can cause tension if they are not acknowledged and addressed.
Here are some suggestions for families sharing a home that can help make life more enjoyable:
- Plan and Communicate. If you are in the process of joining your households, have a family discussion about your expectations, potential areas of conflict, and how this is going to work. It’s especially important to discuss finances. Listen to each other. Don’t expect others to read your mind. If the atmosphere gets tense as time goes by, talk with each other again.
- Respect each other’s privacy and sensitivities.
- Decide on a division of responsibilities. A couple I know splits the duties: one does most of the cooking and the other does the cleaning. An older parent may have some physical limitations, but he/she still wants to feel useful and can participate in daily household tasks.
- Be willing to compromise. Decide what is really important to you, and what different ways of doing things you can be more flexible or tolerant about.
Multi-generational families have some special opportunities, if they take advantage of them, that can make living together enjoyable. They can share memories of past years, celebrate holidays together, and come up with new traditions. Shifra Devorah Witt writes about a creative solution she and her mother found: “Together we have created our own Asian Kosher Cookbook, as two women trying to share one kitchen, and one vision”. (www.chabad.org)
Our lives are a continuous process of discovery and adjustments to change. Perhaps you have some ideas to share on the subject.
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.
By Lynn Willis, Service Coordination, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD