Friday, December 16, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: McGloughlin Family

image After eight years of multigenerational living, the McGloughlin family has it down almost to a science. Amy McGloughlin and her mother-in-law Judy will both tell you that clear boundaries are the secret to a happy multigenerational household. (Well, that and giving Judy the biggest bedroom—with bay window, no less!)

“Both Amy and Charlie have a very good sense of boundaries and we’re clear on how to interact and live together comfortably,” says Judy. “I tend to be very sensitive, but when issues arise, Amy’s clear boundaries make them easy to resolve.”

For Charlie, the key is good communication, honesty, and responsibility. “You have to respect roles in the family, and you need to own your own role,” he explains. “That way when problems arise, you have a mechanism for working them out. If communication was poor, we’d have no way to resolve issues.”

Meanwhile, multigenerational living works for Will because having grandmom around means he has someone to play games with and to help with homework and other projects. He realized just how lucky he was when his class recently broke into discussion groups to talk about family. He was surprised to discover that most of his classmates had no living grandparents.

Reba know she’s lucky, as well. “A lot of my friends say their grandmothers are mean to them, but some have never seen any of their grandparents.”

So why did Judy move in with Amy and Charlie in the first place? “My parents had a large house and after my brother, sister and I moved out, the house was just getting too big for them to handle,” Charlie explains. “Amy and I thought we should get a bigger house where we could all live together and share expenses. It didn’t make sense to have two houses when one would do, and we love each other. Unfortunately, my father died before they could move in with us.”

“It’s been wonderful; I love being with family,” says Judy. “The Gray Panthers often espoused intergenerational living because of what you can learn and share. It’s a great experience and I credit Amy with making it all work.”

Amy—or Pastor Amy as she’s known by her congregants of the Germantown Mennonite Church—says that she and Judy “are different enough that it works out well. To live intergenerationally, you have to be ready to say the hard things. You need to name the problem and talk it through. The reality is, we’ve had to have some hard conversations. You have to have an understanding of your possessions. We have a ton of stories about sharing.”

Sharing is important—within boundaries. Judy does babysit and will drive the children around when needed, but she says that Charlie and Amy are careful not to take her for granted. She, in turn, is careful not to take them for granted. They share the cooking and the grocery bills, and Judy contributes to the mortgage.

But mostly what they share is a love of family. In fact, Charlie and Amy are thinking of moving to a bigger house and moving other family members in.

“In these economic times living together is a good idea,” says Charlie. “It makes a lot of sense spiritually and financially to live together. Living in separate houses is just a waste if you love each other.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Adrian Charniak

adrian-charniak Adrian Charniak (center right) shares a house in Riverside, IL – a Chicago suburb – with her husband. And her mother. And her grandson. And it all works.

Adrian and Ron are both 71. Her mother, Lillian, is 90. Grandson Joey – “our gift,” Adrian says – is 13. The Charniaks also take care of Ron’s mother, Alvina, 89, who lives three miles away. Adrian volunteers – spending much of her time coordinating a regional grandparents support group she started six years ago – and sings in her church choir.

We became a multigenerational household when my father passed away 13 years ago, which left Mom living alone in a very bad neighborhood. After her house was broken into, Ron said she had to come live with us. Then our son lived with us. And Joey has lived with us for 12 years.

Joey is our gift. Neither of his parents could really care for him. We didn’t want to see him go to foster care. So we pulled up our suspenders and went to court. I made every court appearance –more than 100 of them – to make sure he’d be able to stay with us. I had a pension, but I spent it all on court costs. He’s worth it! I now depend on my Social Security check every month to help us raise Joey and care for my mother.

Joey calls me “Babi” – that’s Czech for “grandma.” And he calls my mom “Double Babi.” The other day he got up early, and then he came in and told me, “Babi, I made the coffee, fed the dog, fed the cat, and brought in the paper. You’ve got an easy day today!” Joey goes to a good school in a wonderful school system. Now he’s getting all A’s…mostly!

About six years ago we started a grandparents support group. We call it the Gift of Hope. It’s named after the organ donor group. My son was an organ donor. One day, I was talking with another grandmother about how our grandchildren are the gift. “And we’re the hope,” she said.

We have 178 families in the group now. People come to our meetings from all over –not just the Chicago area. We find out what they need –shoes, clothing, a bed, school supplies –and we try to help them. Then they form friendships. It’s people helping people.

We have friends who are retired who are always telling me about their next cruise to Hawaii or wherever. I tell them I go on cruises every day. I cruise to school, I cruise to the mall, I cruise to the doctor’s office, I cruise to the skateboarding park. Joey’s my cruise to Hawaii, and you know what? I wouldn’t trade my cruise for theirs.

To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Lisa Mensah

111028 Lisa Mensah Lisa Mensah directs the Aspen Institute’s Initiative on Financial Security.

I’m partial to multigenerational households because I grew up in one, in Oregon. My mom’s parents lived nearby and then moved in with us. And my father grew up in Ghana, where multigenerational households were the norm.

My husband grew up in North Carolina, also in a multigenerational household. So when we had our first child it seemed entirely natural for my mom to move in and help us. We were living in New York, both of us working, and to have Mom anchoring at home was a great gift, and still is. She has always been a loving presence in our children’s lives.

Now our roles within the family are shifting. Mom has cancer, and although it’s under control, her chemo and radiation treatments have caused a severe loss of mobility. So she’s in a wheelchair most of the time. That hasn’t stopped her. For example, she has always been a wonderful cook, but now she needs some help. And our children – Rebecca is 15, Andrew is 12 – are helping.

My kids are lucky. They have four living grandparents and other relatives within reach who can mentor them. And I enjoy the wisdom of the elders. They understand how stressed today’s students – and parents! – can be, and they help us to remember what matters, which is making time for each other, and helping each other.

We’re obviously living through a time of great financial stress for millions of families. About eight years ago, after moving from the Ford Foundation to the Aspen Institute, I started the Initiative on Financial Security to try to advance the goal of improving household financial security for lower-income families. First we have to protect what’s already in place – especially Social Security and Medicare. They’re foundational. And we have to move beyond the narrow confines of today’s political debates, which create so much fear that these bedrock economic security programs may not be there tomorrow. We have to get fear off the table.

To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Lydia Win

image My husband, Maung, and I share our three-bedroom, one-bath home with our two young sons, Nathan and Nevin; my sister Patricia, 36; my father, Saw Lincoln, who is 62, and my 89-year-old grandmother, Minerva. It’s crowded, but it works.

I was born in Burma and am a Karen, one of seven major ethnic groups that live in Burma. I have lived in the United States for 18 years and, for the most part, our family lives a typical American lifestyle. At the same time, we also hold onto important Burmese traditions, such as caring for relatives and living together for mutual support.

Tradition certainly plays a major role in why we have four generations living under one roof, but today’s economy plays a big role, as well. My husband, sister, and I are fortunate to work full-time, yet we still live paycheck to paycheck.

Living together has a lot of advantages. My grandmother is in good health, as is my father. They both are able to help out when my sons are sick or home from school. And my father often stands in if my husband or I can’t make a school event or if the kids need a ride somewhere. My sister cares for them, too, when she’s at home. I’m not sure how we’d make it if we had to pay for after-school care.

All of the adults share expenses, such as groceries, so that eases the financial burden somewhat. But the real advantage to living together is that we can help care for and support each other. When someone needs help, we all pitch in.

In many ways, we’re no different from other families trying to cope with an uncertain economy. We have our financial and generational challenges. And living with so many people under one roof can create tension at times. But love makes it work. You just can’t buy a grandparent’s caring, attention, and support. My kids love their great grandmother and their grandfather. And my sister is so attached to my sons—and they to her.

To other extended families who are thinking of living together, I’d offer this advice: Have understanding and patience when living with different generations. Everyone will have to sacrifice some privacy and freedom. But what you get in return can’t be measured in dollars, and it’s worth the small sacrifices you make.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Maggie Cruz

Cruz3Magdalena Cruz lives in a house in Hartford, CT, with her nine-year-old grandson Julian, whom she is raising. She is 65.

I live with my son, and his girlfriend, and my grandson. They all have developmental disabilities.

After my son’s girlfriend became pregnant and had their baby, when he was about three months old I heard that they were going to give him away, and I told my son I couldn’t agree to that. I didn’t know what would happen to the baby. I told my son I would rather take the baby and raise him myself, and I did. I went to court and was given custody of the boy. Then, when Julian was about three years old, I took him to have some evaluations and learned that he had developmental disabilities.

We got some help from SSI [Supplemental Security Income, the federal program administered by Social Security that pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources], and we still do. And my son gets some help from the Social Security Disability Insurance program. I’m grateful for that, and I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me, but it’s not easy, living the way we do. At one point I was told that Julian should be sent away to a special school, but I wanted him to stay with us, so he would know his father and his mother and his grandmother and would know we love hi m. So he did. And today he is a very happy nine-year-old boy who loves his father and his mother and me – and we are a happy family!

Julian gets extra help at school, and when there are meetings I take his mother with me, to help her understand that she has responsibilities. And my son too. So I do what I can. And I get some counseling help from a group that helps grandparents. But our only continuing income is from SSI and SSDI. I would like to find work, and I look all the time, but in this economy… well, there is nothing out there. I am the kind of person who likes to work – I like my house too but I don’t want to be in it all the time! I used to have a job working with disabled people and training other people to work with them. I liked that job and I did that work for many years. But then I was laid off, a few months ago. Now I get unemployment assistance – but that’s temporary, and anyway it’s not what I want. I want to work and be of service. But when I go to talk to state agencies, I always hear the same thing: “We’re cutting back.” That seems wrong to me, to be cutting back when the needs are not being cut back. It’s a little bit tough, I think.

‘President Obama and Congress, we could use some help.’

I’m not a complainer. But it’s not easy, living in a household with not one but three people with disabilities. It takes a lot of explaining, a lot of patience, a lot of time, and it’s harder when I’m also worrying about whether I can afford to keep my house. Life is not bad, but it’s not easy. I could use some help – and if I need help, think how many other people need even more help, especially the older grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Because I like to think I’m a young lady – but some others are old. So if I could say anything to President Obama and Congress, it would be that giving us a little more help would be a good investment. With a little help my grandson will grow up to be a fine man.


To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Long-term Care Insurance & Multigenerational Families

The bitter experience of Alison Briolat from Ohio - illustrates why millions of Americans, especially multigenerational families, desperately need affordable long-term care insurance.

A recent New York Times article[i] described one family's distress. Briolat moved her parents into her home after her mother's health deteriorated, chiefly because of the stress of caring for Briolat's father - who suffered an injury that eventually required a foot amputation, followed by five months in a nursing home that cost the family $60,000. Briolat now pays a home heath aide to care for her parents while she and her husband are at work.

"Everybody at work is very glib about how they'll never be a burden to their children and how I'm such a saint," Briolat says. "But unless you have millions sitting in the bank, there's no other way."

For the past 25 years, proposals in Congress to provide long-term care coverage have failed, largely because they were too costly. But the Affordable Care Act included the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act, a program intended to provide a long-term care benefit of at least $50 a day, or $18,000 a year with no cost to the government. While it would not have covered many months of nursing-home care, it would at least have helped caregivers pay for home health aides. Diane Rowland, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, notes that CLASS "was designed to serve as a bridge between the affluent who can care for their own and the poor who get Medicaid."

More than 10 million Americans have long-term care needs, and at least a third of the cost is paid out-of-pocket by family members like Briolat. CLASS could have been a financial lifeline, especially for multigenerational families. But the program had a major issue that needed to be addressed. It was to be voluntary, with benefits to be paid entirely from premiums rather than from dedicated revenues collected via any form of mandate.

As all insurance actuaries know, a voluntary program invites moral hazard: people who believe they'll need long-term care will enroll, while those willing to bet on not needing it (or believing, wrongly, that Medicare covers it) will stay away from the program - until they need it. Since a distinguishing feature of CLASS was a prohibition on underwriting – the tool private insurers use to keep sick people from enrolling, other methods needed to be used to create a large pool under which risk could be spread among young and old, and disabled and not disabled, purchasers. Since attempts to subsidize premiums or require employers to offer the coverage were rejected, advocates hoped to keep premiums low and attract healthy buyers by providing flexibility to create work requirements and delay the period of time between purchasing coverage and filing for benefits.

Even though CLASS was budget neutral, reduced Medicaid costs and imposed no mandates, opponents of health reform tried to kill it. Since the process in health reform did not permit an opportunity to amend the bill to better address adverse selection concerns, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) struggled to balance actuarial, legal, and marketing concerns, along with the requirement that CLASS would be self-sustaining for 75 years. As a result, HHS has suspended implementation of the program and opponents are pushing for repeal – without offering any alternatives to address the problem. Advocates want to “mend it, not end it” and are offering suggestions to fix issues raised.

There are lessons to be learned from CLASS – both from success of the collaborative effort to include the provision in the law against long odds, and from the raw, partisan political opposition and complexity of implementation that followed. As we continue to promote progressive legislation that promises to help multigenerational families, we need to be sure they represent both good policy and good politics, pay close attention to details, and are sensitive to current budget realities.

For more on our healthcare recommendations, check out page 38 of our latest report: Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.

[i] [i] “Still No Relief in Sight for Long-Term Needs,” New York Times, October 25, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Levy Gillespie

Gillespie1 Levy Gillespie lives with his grandchild at Generations, an affordable rental property developed and managed by Community Renewal Team, Inc. (CRT), a Hartford-based community action agency that is the largest nonprofit provider of human services in Connecticut. Generations consists of 40 rental apartments in two sections: one for seniors and the other for grandparents raising their grandchildren.

My granddaughter Aubrey is four years old now. She came to me when she was just about a month old. My daughter was in a difficult relationship with Aubrey’s father, and she knew it wasn’t going to work for her to keep the child. She was afraid that the child would be taken away from her and sent to a foster home. So she brought Aubrey to me – and I went to court and won legal custody.

Raising Aubrey has been very good for me. I like being responsible for her, and she helps keep me focused. I’m 52-years-old and diabetic, and I don’t always feel good, but she motivates me to take care of myself. And she’s fun! She’s a very good kid, and she learns quickly, too.

I do some work for a temp agency, doing odd jobs. That gives me some flexibility. It would be hard for me to hold a full-time job right now, because Aubrey is my main responsibility. My day is organized around her.

‘I needed help to raise my granddaughter, and I was fortunate enough to find it.’

I’ve done a lot of praying, and I believe God opens doors for us. You never know how the doors are going to open, but they do. I needed help to keep my granddaughter, and I was fortunate enough to find it. We moved in to CRT about six months ago, and it has been a blessing for us. It’s a real community. I can talk with other grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and we have meetings where we can talk about other things like working together to keep our community clean and safe. I’m very grateful to be here.

Before I found out about CRT, I was really struggling. When the economy went bad I lost my job and I was close to losing my apartment. I couldn’t pay my gas bill, my electric bill. I was stressed out and depressed and anxious about whether I could continue to take care of Aubrey. We were just going week to week. CRT gave me hope again. I don’t have much to live on, but I have a caseworker at CRT who looks out for Aubrey and me, and they go out of their way to help.

To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Multigenerational Family Profile: Que Spencer

image My grandmother moved in with us over three years ago. We love having her live with us. We’ve always been a close family and we enjoy each other’s company—talking and going to church together. And we love her cooking!

My grandmother really didn’t want to move to Virginia Beach. She’s a very independent woman and had lived in North Carolina all her life; it’s where her heart is. She still owns the house my grandfather built when they married 66 years ago. She visits there whenever possible.

Although it was very difficult for her to leave her home, her declining health dictated the move. We all pitch in to help care for her. She helps us by talking to us and giving us a different perspective on things. We all benefit from her lifetime of experiences and her wisdom. She holds the key to our family history.

I think the biggest issue we face is getting time off of work to take my grandmother to doctor appointments. It would be a lot easier on us—especially my mother—if workplace policies took into account how many families now are caregivers for either younger or older generations. Like most families in this situation, we could use more support.

To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.