5 Tips to Make a Beanpole Family Work

It’s no surprise to modern families that parenting and families are different these days – lone parent, blended, sandwich, nuclear, extended, beanpole and everything else in between are now the norm.

The beanpole family is a 21st century version of the extended family: with a long thin structure, the beanpole family has strong ties but lives apart. There aren’t many children per family, but intergenerational ties are strong – even if separated by oceans. One beanpole family I know has Grandma fly in to Stansted on Easyjet from Germany for babysitting – another has grandparents come over for a month at a time to help, because they live in Atlanta, USA while the family with young children live in the UK.

Held together by regular and cheap communications via FaceTime, Skype and Dropboxes full of family photos, this family has a strong identity but longer distances to travel. We know that despite the fact Grandma doesn’t live around the corner, she’ll still drop everything to come and soothe a child with a fever or a parent on presentation deadline meltdown!

Whilst parents are living longer, in good health, each generation in this structure now has their own care responsibilities. Grandma may have Great-Grandpa to think of, as well as young grandchildren. Parents may have one set of grandparents in good health but far away, and another set of grandparents with health problems, a short drive away. Divorce, bereavement or career choices may have caused these separations, but the defining factor is that each generation pulls together to help out.

Here are 5 tips for coping with and enjoying the care challenges that the beanpole family can bring.

Establish lines of communication. You know that cascade diagram that your workplace has for keeping colleagues in touch with important developments? Get one made for your family and share online (think Google drive, Evernote or Dropbox). Make a printout for you and your beanpole family members, to keep in the family diary or near the ‘phone. Include up to date contact details for doctors, carers and all local and far flung family members who are involved in your loved ones care and wellbeing. Don’t forget to include time zones and preferred communication methods (email, SMS, Skype, landline).
Get connected. Spend time getting the older generation online and make sure that they are linked to you across social media platforms. You can use this for planning special occasions as well as keeping the family network up to date with care needs, news and staying in touch. With the distances and time zones that you have to juggle, this will smooth the path. This way no-one misses out on the latest holiday snaps, news of little ones or updates on great-grandparents’ care.
Become a diplomat. However challenging it can seem at times, you may need to accept that parts of your family will always be separate. If you are in a beanpole structure because of divorce, accept that those branches of the family don’t want to be blended, even if it is for your child’s graduation or their Christmas show.
Regroup the network. When the choices you made for professional or other reasons to relocate or move away are no longer relevant, think about regrouping some of the network together. If circumstances allow, bringing one part of the family closer together can ease the stresses and strains of keeping the beanpole family in synch.
Get professional care or domestic help. If your older family members don’t need around the clock care, but your peace of mind would be increased by occasional help, consider getting a regular housekeeper or carer to help run errands or with the heavier and bigger jobs around the house and garden.

This blog was first published on Care.com

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