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The Steve Roberts Interview

Today's Caregiver MagazineAn Interview with Steve Roberts

Steve Roberts appears regularly on CNN, PBS and the ABC radio network, and hosts Voice of Americaís ďThe Roberts Report.Ē He is a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, a popular lecturer, and the Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  Steve, with wife Cokie Roberts, also writes a nationally syndicated weekly commentary column offering no-nonsense analysis of national and international issues.
Steve Roberts knows a lot about family dynamics, having written his most recent book, My Fathersí Houses: Memoir of a Family, and co-authored with Cokie the New York Timesí bestseller, From This Day Forward (2000).
Editor-in-Chief Gary Barg sat down with Steve to talk about the family business of writing and writing about the business of being a family.

Gary Barg: You and Cokie wrote about this phenomenon in your recent article called, ďThe Double-Decker Sandwich Generation.Ē Can you explain what this is?
Steve Roberts: Thereís the traditional concept of what the ďsandwich generationĒ is; I remember the moment when I realized that I was in that middle. It was over 20 years ago during a Thanksgiving gathering at my parentsí house in New Jersey. We had rented a bus to go tour the historic sites in Philadelphia and I looked around to notice that the oldest member of our family, my father, the patriarch of the family, and my youngest nephew, who was about 6 or 7, were both missing from the group. We couldnít find either one of them and I thought this was the perfect symbol of the sandwich generationódealing with my father at one end and then dealing with my nephew on the other end.
I grew up with one grandfather in the house and the other two grandparents living only a few blocks away. In my entire childhood, I donít think I ever had a babysitter I wasnít related to. I thought everybody grew up that way. We have all scattered and live in different places; but with my mother moving to Washington, D.C., itís a symbol of the family coming back togetheróespecially when the caregiving responsibilities are growing. Iím fortunate to have a brother who lives here; my father has been dead for the last eight years. My brother and I live about 15 minutes away from each other. The independent living facility my mother has chosen is literally right in between our two houses, so weíll now have our original relationship again after all these years. She selected the facility and decided on it, and made it so much easier on us by doing this on her own. She doesnít want to have the responsibility of keeping up with two homes, the increasing problems with driving, etc. Part of why sheís moving closer is because she will be in better proximity to see the kids when they visit with us. This was a very important part of her decision. Caregiving isnít just about the person who goes to the pharmacy for someone, but itís about the joy, the love, and the level of care that a person receives. Care comes in many forms. I often work from home now and Iím only 10 minutes away from where my mother lives. I can call her up and go have lunch with her. Itís lunch, but itís also caregiving. These facilities make it easy for people to be able to host people for meals, so this encourages caregiving from outside the facility as well.
Gary Barg:  Tell me about your experience with family caregiving.
Steve Roberts:  As the grandfather who lived with us grew older, my mother took care of him. I had already left for college at the age of 17 and much of this took place after that. The last couple of years of his life, he moved into the Hebrew Home for the Aged when my mother could no longer care for him at home. My mother now has nine great-grandchildren and my mother-in-law has 16, so there is now this phenomenon of two middle generations and there are caregiving responsibilities on both ends. I helped my 86-year-old mother closeout her home in Florida before she moved into the independent living facility in Washington, D.C., and then the very next week, I was flying out to California to take care of  twin three-year-old grandsons and a new born. We were still in the middle, but it dawned on me that these werenít our children we were taking care of; this is what is meant by the double-decker sandwich generation. Our children take responsibility for their grandmothers and we take responsibility for their children.
Gary Barg:  If you wonder how you will be cared for in your failing years, take note of what your children saw when you were taking care of your parents; that will give you a pretty good idea of how your children will care for you. Do you have any words of advice for family caregivers?
Steve Roberts:  Thatís a good question. This is going to sound sappy, but I actually mean it. The chance to do this is actually a gift. My mother is giving me a gift by moving here. Iím not naÔve; I know there will be times when my responsibilities will be torn. But in these last years of her life, for her to want to be here where I can be a much bigger part of her life is in many ways a big gift to me. Among the things that she did that were so incredibly helpful to me was saving all the letters that she and my father had written to each other since she was seventeen, covering the four years from the day they met to the day they married. This was a gift of family, a gift of lore and legacy, and I couldnít have done my book without that gift. I see her moving here to be another gift. Thereís opportunity to be of service, particularly to a parent. When caregiving becomes a burden, itís when youíre so stressed by other priorities and other obligations that you canít be there because you need to be some place else. Try to clear your mind and tell yourself that this is important and that the other things can wait. Be there for them; donít be there for yourself. Clear your schedule and your mind.  





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