A Multi-generational Family in Crisis
For many caregivers, they are a family in crisis. With a rampant drug culture and the disintegration of the family, more and more grandparents find themselves caregiving, parenting, and struggling with enabling as well as their own marriages and health. Norma and her husband are a family in crisis,and she called our show, HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER. As Norma heard, there’s no solution …there is a path. But it’s not going to easy.
Click to listen to the audio of the call from HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER
[Transcript of the Call to the Show]
Peter: Norma in Indiana. Norma? Good morning Norma. How you feeling?
Norma: Not very well this morning.
Peter: Not too well?
Norma: No. What I have a problem with is I have two grandchildren that I’m taking care of due to their mother who has mental illness; schizophrenic mental illness and one of her children…Well, they both have different fathers and the one father is dead, the other father never had anything to do with his son at all. And so the children were taken away by DCS two years ago and I took them into my home and I didn’t ask my husband when they called. I just, out of frustration and hurt I said, “Just bring them here”.
And so I didn’t know, you know, what all the circumstances were, but there was drugs involved. She was living with her sister who had also lost her husband, which is my youngest daughter. And they had got into drugs and everything was a mess. And so this is two years later, I still have the children and my husband, which would be the children’s step… I mean it’s not their biological grandfather. I’m sorry. I’m so nervous. I’m hearing things. But…
Peter: By the way, let me stop you just for a minute Norma. Do you have your radio on?
Norma: Yes. Should I turn it off?
Peter: Can you turn that off for me?
Norma: Yes. Hold on. Okay, that’s better.
Peter: That’s good. Cause what happens, it picks up an echo and…
Norma: Yeah. Alright. I couldn’t hear myself.
Peter: That’s alright. Let me make sure. I just want to catch up here with you and make sure that I’m tracking with you. Okay?
Peter: So you’ve got a daughter who had a drug problem. She had two different children, by two different men. And because…
Norma: I’ll backup. She’s not the one that’s the mother of these children. My daughter that’s paranoid schizophrenic is the one that has the children. And when her husband died with cancer and she had the little girl by him. My youngest daughter, when her first child was born, he was about 18 months old… My youngest daughter and her husband took him and got guardianship of him. Well, then her husband passed away and that’s when the drugs began. And then…
Peter: All right, so you got… Hold on a second cause I’m trying to just get right down to… I can’t do the whole biographical story on the family, but I just want to understand. You got two children. Are they siblings or they’re cousins?
Norma: No, they’re siblings.
Peter: Okay, two children…
Norma: And the problem is my husband… I can’t say that he hasn’t tried to be good, but he just doesn’t have the patience that I have. I’ve been to caregiver basically all my life for other things. And the boy will soon be 14, a teenager and the little girl is 11. And of course, you know how 14 year olds start to get teenage sloppiness and mouthy. And he’s been that way with my husband. And my husband says, I can’t take much more this. If something doesn’t change, you’re going to have to make a choice between me or them because he says I cannot handle this emotionally. And every day and every night I wake up with this on my mind and I cry about it and I think I don’t know what to do.
Peter: All right, look, I know this is painful. So let’s get right down to the brass tacks here, what we got to do. Your husband, what he’s going through is understandable, but he’s going to have to just step up. And part of that is going to involve both of you guys and maybe the whole family. Is anybody getting any counseling at all?
Norma: Yes, I’ve got both of the children are in counseling. They’re in individual counseling and behavior counseling. And I myself started in counseling. I kind of backed off here lately because my insurance wouldn’t pick it up. I’ve had to pay for it and you know, the extra expenses that come along with it. My husband’s never been in counseling.
Peter: Alright. Is he opposed to it?
Norma: No. We have talked about it and our church has a hope counseling center and he said that he would go there with me. That’s a good step.
Peter: Counseling is going to be kind of a must for all of you guys. You got so many different moving pieces here. The kids are going to continue acting out. That’s not going to change.
Peter: But you can change, and your husband can change. But you’re not going to be able to do it on your own very easy. It’s going to take a lot of work. Divorce is going to be a lot more expensive than counseling.
Peter: Does he know this?
Norma: I’ve been through one. I don’t want to go there again. Yes, we both have been through divorce. He was married 27 years. I was married 21 and we’ve both been married now 27 years to each other.
Peter: All right, let me just be blunt Norma. You all got a whole boxcar full of baggage in this situation.
Peter: And it’s been piling up for a very, very long time and now it’s getting to the point where it’s just crushing. You are not going to get out of this overnight. You’re not going to maybe get out of this at all. But what you can do is you can rearrange some of these things. You can organize a little bit better so that it’s easier to manage and you can get a little stronger and a little healthier as you do it.
These kids are going to continue to act out because they’ve come from just really tough situations. And we don’t know a lot of the dynamics that are going to manifest themselves in these children as they continue to go through their teenage years. It’s not going to get any easier.
So, if you guys are trying to white knuckle this thing by yourself, it’s going to crush you. So what I’m asking you to do is for you and your husband to sit down at the kitchen table and look at each other and just have a real honest conversation. And don’t be afraid to say,
“Hey, you know what? This is absolutely a dumpster fire. But it’s our dumpster fire and we’re going to have to deal with it. And for us to just split up and go our separate ways is not going to be the solution. We love each other. We care for each other. We care about these kids. We’re trying to do the best we can, but this is beyond us. This is bigger than us. And us falling apart is not going to help them and it’s not going to help us.”
Peter: And that’s the starting point for the conversation. And it’s going to be a painful conversation with some tears … and it’s okay to listen to him. Okay? You brought this to him. He loves you, but now he’s got to hook up all of his box car to your box car and man, you’ve got all kinds of stuff going on. It’s going to take a lot of patience, a lot of work and a lot of help to detangle some of this mess.
Peter: And if you guys are not looking at it honestly from the front end it’s going to overwhelm you. When you get into it, you’re going to get mad— you’re going to get angry—all these things are going to happen. [You’re going to be] resentful. All this stuff’s going to happen.
And I don’t want to see that happen with you all, but it’s going to start with an honest conversation between the two of you. And then you’re going to start to have to reach out to get some good people involved with this. It’s probably going to take more than just one or two. It’s going to take more than maybe even what your church can offer.
Peter: And you’re going to need to get some social workers involved in this. This thing with your grandchildren is going to probably get a little bit more gnarly. When you have teenagers in general, it can get weird. But when you have teenagers that are coming from the kind of train wrecks that these kids have come from, it’s going to get even weirder. Okay?
And so that’s why it’s going to be very helpful to get some people involved and some family. People that really know this kind of stuff, not amateurs. You’re going to have to get some people with some real experience in this to help you kind of chart a path of what this looks like.
You don’t go to counseling just to emote. You go there to be able to say, “Okay, what does safety look like? What is a path towards this thing not crushing us?” And you have to come out with real action steps. By the way, are you seeing your doctor regularly?
Norma: Yes, I do. Every three months I have… Unfortunately, I have an anxiety disorder and a heart condition.
Peter: Well, I can only imagine you would have an anxiety disorder. I would have an anxiety disorder dealing with what you’re dealing with. I’ll tell you what, hold on through the break Norma. Hold on through the break.
This is “Hope for the Caregiver”. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away Norma.
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Peter: Welcome back to the show for caregivers, about caregivers, hosted by a caregiver. I am Peter Rosenberger. This is the nation’s number one show for the family caregiver. We’re on American family radio. We are live; (888) 589-8840, (888) 589-8840 for those of you holding on the phone lines, we’ll get to you in just a minute. I want to finish up a little bit with Norma in Indiana. Norma, you still with me?
Norma: Yes, I am.
Peter: Norma, a couple things that I was thinking about over the break. I would recommend also for your husband and you both to involve yourself into some type of 12 step recovery program for family members of addicts or alcoholics.
Peter: Even though that’s not always applicable in every case. The concept is still helpful. Like Al-Anon and things like that because it is a group of people who are struggling with their dysfunction and trying to control something that can’t be controlled.
Peter: Those are helpful things. You guys have had a lot of trauma to you and you’re going to have to respect the trauma. You’ve got death, you’ve got paranoid schizophrenic, you’ve got drug use. You got a lot of trauma and you’ve got multiple marriages. You got a lot of trauma. I’ve been caring for somebody who’s endured the aftermath of a lot of trauma and you have to respect the trauma and recognize that this may not get better. Okay? It just may not.
There’s some things that just not going to be fixed this side of heaven. My wife’s legs are not going to grow back. Her pain is not going to go away. Not unless some kind of direct intervention from God. And she’s been like this for 36 years and that’s a long time.
Peter: And so in this particular case, the things that are going on with you, there’s not going to be a point where you say; “Okay, we’re just going to get through this and then we can get on with our life.”
Nope, this is your life now. And these children are part of your life and they’re going to be a part of your life for the rest of your life. And your husband is in a position now where he’s going to have to make a decision. Does he want to be a part of that? And he can’t hold that over your head every time he gets just upset about something. He’s going to have to man up and say; “Okay, am I in this or am I not in this?” And man up …and do it. Now that’s the blunt force truth.
Peter: All right. Here’s the compassionate truth. There are people out there that can help you with this. But it’s gonna take a lot of work and it’s going to take some money and you’re going to have to make financial decisions and spend some money with some counsel. Now, when you go to a 12 step recovery program that doesn’t cost any money, those are free. You can go to those anywhere and you go every day if you want to, and I would recommend it because I think it’s going to strengthen you for the journey and that’s what’s necessary.
There’s not a solution for this. There’s only a path towards you being stronger and him being stronger and you all being able to better navigate through this. There’s not any kind of switch that somebody’s going to flip and all of a sudden your grandchildren going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay. You know, there is nothing. You know, my wife doesn’t have a switch that’s going to make her legs stop being amputated and grow back. You know, it doesn’t work that way. But, she does wear prosthetic legs. She has adaptive equipment that can help her function in a healthier manner in life. And those are things that are going to be necessary for you and your husband and these children. You’re going to need some adaptive equipment. You’re going to need emotionally adaptive equipment and that’s not going to come from you guys just trying to muscle your way through this.
You’re going to have to seek out some help, some real, no kidding professional help. And so I don’t know who you’re going to see as a counselor, but makes sure that you really are dealing with a pro here who can give you good solid counsel- “Okay, here’s the action steps you need”. If all you do is go through a box of Kleenex every time you go to counseling, that’s not helpful. You’re going to need action plans.
You’re going to need no kidding… There’s a movie, it’s a tough movie to see. It is a tough movie, but it’s a very good movie. And it’s called, “We Were Soldiers”, Mel Gibson stars in it and it’s based on the true story of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore who ended up becoming a general. But it was back in Vietnam and they got over there and the whole thing just fell apart. I mean, these guys were highly trained. They were some of the first people there in Vietnam and they got over there and it was basically an ambush. It was just falling apart. And Moore, played by Mel Gibson gets up and he looks at these soldiers and every one of them you could just see it in their eyes …”Okay, what are we going to do now?”
And he looked at one young sergeant, I think it was and he said, “I want you to take that creek bed”. He was yelling these things out, “That creek bed! We’re going to take that hill!” And it’s very micromanaged things …of what we’re going to do—that we’re not going to just sit there and start shooting somewhere and hopefully we hit the enemy. We’re going to have very targeted steps and that’s the kind of counseling that you need and that’s the kind of counseling that your husband needs.
It’s not going to be a situation where they say, “Well, you know, write three things to say that you like about each other” or whatever. I’m not saying that you’re getting that. I’m just simply saying it’s going to have to be almost “military type” action plans. “We’re going to take that creek bed!” …this is what we’re going to do today. Right now. Those are the kind of action steps that you’re going to have to have. And you’re going to have to have that support team around you and your church and so forth. And if you’re not getting that, you need to trim out everything around you that is distracting you from a healthier path. I mean, you’re going to have to ruthlessly cut things and even relationships that are pulling you down because you guys are in a very, very, very dangerous position.
Norma: Yeah. We are. That’s why I called.
Peter: The whole thing can just come crashing down on you and then these kids will be just… Well, you know, it’ll take everybody down.
Norma: Right, and I don’t want that to happen.
Peter: Well, I don’t want it to happen either and I don’t think anybody listening wants it to happen. We’re all pulling for you, but it’s going to take you and your husband. It starts at the kitchen table. It usually does. And it’s going to take you and your husband sitting down and get your Bible out. You know, and proverbs says; lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. That’s what it says in Proverbs and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
And it’s really important that you hang on to that scripture because when you lean on your own understanding, you get in some real messes. Believe me, I know this. This is my life. I am the crash test dummy of caregivers and I’ve leaned on my own understanding and made a mess of things. But there are the people who have good understanding and godly counsel for you. Scripture says there’s wisdom in a multitude of counselors and you’re going to need a multitude of counselors in this one.
Peter: And ask your husband at the table… Just say, look …and I’m going to put this out on the podcast and play this back for him if you have to … but just say, “Look, before you just go all nuclear here and say, this is done and I can’t take it anymore, can we have an honest conversation about what we can do and how we can navigate this and how we can see God’s hand in this and trust God in this?”
Now, we’ll tell you this. I will tell you this, with absolute 100% conviction, Norma. You can trust God in this. He has not abandoned you. He already knows about all of this. Okay?
Peter: This is not something that God has just said, “Oh my goodness, I took my eye off of Norma and look what happened.” That’s not what’s going on here. But there’s a lot of heartbreak for whatever reason and there’s a lot of different factors that have gone into this. But here’s where we are. And my wife’s car accident did not catch God by surprise. When her friend Joni Eareckson Tada dove into that Chesapeake Bay back in 1967 and broke her neck and became a quadriplegic. It didn’t catch God by surprise.
Peter: When Cain murdered his brother Abel, it did not catch God by surprise. And he’s able to weave and work through these things with us. But it does take work and it takes trust …and this is what it looks like to cry out to a Savior. So, if you feel like your counselor is the right person for the job and the kids’ counselor is the right person for the job, okay, then you’ve got some real allies.
And now your husband’s going to need that.
It may be more than what your church offers, but you’re going to need strategic counseling. Not just emoting you know, I know this is a tough place for you guys. Every time you meet with a counselor, you should come out with some type of action step. But I don’t care how small the action step is. The action step could be just to go home and you know, clean the refrigerator. I’m just making stuff up here. But it has to be an action step that you guys can actually wrap your mind around doing to help these children get to a place where they are not creating havoc everywhere. And help you guys get to a place where you’re not being sucked into the havoc that they do create.
Peter: This is a hard place Norma. I am not saying these things without any sense of understanding or appreciation of just how difficult this is for you. But it’s a very dangerous place for you. You are welcome to call anytime you want. You’re welcomed to give us updates and we’ll do the best we can to connect you with resources that can help you with it as well. Okay?
Norma: I appreciate that so much.
Peter: You’re welcome Norma.
Norma: Fine. Okay.
Peter: Well, thank you. Thank you. We as caregivers are in dangerous places and we have to have strategic players. The goal was not to feel better about these things. The goal is to be better. Healthy caregivers make better caregivers.
This is Peter Rosenberger. This is Hope for the Caregiver.
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Hope for the Caregiver is the family caregiver outreach of Standing With Hope