Three generations find ‘home’ under one roof
By Debra Talcott
Faced with the need to provide care for aging parents, some families look for capable in-home nursing care. Some choose an assisted living situation that includes meals and laundry service. Others, like attorney Lori Becker and her husband Larry Sobolewski, choose to move into a new home that accommodates the needs of the three generations that today includes Becker’s mother, the couple, their 10-year-old son Daniel, and the extended family’s five dogs. In a clever play on words, Becker calls the family home “Peace de Residence” because of its spectacular natural setting and interior amenities.
“My parents and I had talked over the years, and their original plan was to stay in their home in Clinton Township, where they had lived for more than 50 years and had been very active in their community,” says Becker.
Her father, the late Dr. Carl Becker, was a retired family physician and past president of the Board of Trustees for the former Mount Clemens General Hospital. Her mother, Del Becker, now 83 and a retired nurse anesthetist, served on numerous boards in Macomb County and as president of the Base Community Council at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
When Becker’s father shared with her his feelings that he would not live out another year and wanted to see her mother settled where she would be well cared for and not alone, Becker took her parents to visit many of the independent living facilities in Metro Detroit.
“It became obvious my mother was strongly opposed to living in a retirement community, and my father only wanted to make her happy because he was convinced he would not be around for long. So once all of the other options were exhausted, and after a quick consult with my husband, we offered the idea of all of us living together. My parents jumped at the offer and were thrilled.”
Since both Becker and her parents were living in quad-level homes with many stairs, the decision to merge the two families was the beginning of an exhaustive search for the ideal home and setting that would be near Becker’s Bloomfield Hills Law firm, Becker Legal, P.C., and near her parents’ former ties.
“We looked at well over 100 homes all over Macomb and Oakland counties before finding our new home in Rochester. It sits on a magical 8 acres, and our surrounding neighbors each own 10 acres, which gives us about 40 acres of wooded land that will, hopefully, never be developed. While just down the road from downtown Rochester, our backyard has a half-acre trout pond with Paint Creek winding through the property into the woods. With numerous deer, wild turkey, and an incredible variety of birds and other wildlife, the backyard was declared a National Wildlife Preserve a couple of years ago,” explains Becker.
The two families moved in together in November 2010, but, sadly, Becker’s father was able to enjoy the natural setting for only two short months before the heart attack that took his life.
“This house and its timing were a miracle, though, because we never would have been able to get my mother to move out of their old house without my father,” says Becker. “In the time he was here, my father joked that when he looked outside he thought we lived somewhere like Colorado, but when he watched TV, they were showing ads from Michigan. Our first purchase after moving in was a pair of binoculars so my dad could teach us about all the different birds we were seeing.”
Now Del Becker is comfortably ensconced on her own level of the home that includes a full kitchen, two bathrooms, bedroom, office, laundry room, living room with fireplace, and plenty of storage in 2,400 square feet of living space. She enjoys the freedom to entertain friends in her private space, but she has the benefit of daily contact with family members.
“My husband and I prepare all of the meals-or we go out or get carry-out-for all of us, and we do all the grocery shopping, cleaning, house care, laundry, and errand running,” explains Becker about their new way of life. “It has increased our workload by 200 percent, but it is worth it to know that everyone is safe, happy, and well cared for. We are lucky that my husband, Larry, is an EMT/fireman and can set up his schedule to accommodate all of our family’s needs. We also host parties that include both my parents’ friends and ours, and we host parties just for mom’s friends where my husband and I cook and serve for them, just like a first-class hotel!”
Becker has two brothers who are considerably older and have lived in other states for many years, so she says she was raised almost like an only child and, therefore, expected and wanted to be the one to care for her aging parents, saying the three of them had always been a ‘team.’
“It has always been me and my parents-we have enjoyed many activities together,” says Becker, who learned the importance of community service and involvement from both parents, which led her to become an avid volunteer for many community nonprofits. “I also grew up fishing and hunting as a way of spending time with my dad. We would go fishing on Lake St. Clair, fly fishing on the Au Sable, and deer, wild turkey, and bear hunting in the U.P. As a kid, I spent time watching my dad tie flies for fly fishing and tried to emulate him.”
Becker learned her love of and respect for the great outdoors through these many hunting and fishing trips with her father.
“We once went on a float trip down the Bow River in Calgary for catch-and-release rainbow and brown trout. About half way through the trip, dad asked the guide to pull the boat over to the bank, pointing out an area that used to be an ancient buffalo jump where the Indians would chase the buffalo off the cliff in order to get the meat to feed their people. We climbed up the bank, dug a little way into the side and-sure enough-we discovered buffalo bones. I will never forget this experience; my dad was so full of knowledge about so many subjects.”
Now Becker is pleased to see the next generation enjoying the amenities of their beautiful natural setting. Daniel spends one night a week and alternating weekends during the school year in his Rochester home. He is with his father and Becker every other week during the summer. He and his friends make good use of the pool, which was built into the side of a hill so that it has a sun ledge, swim-up bar, and kitchen.
“We also have a special place in our backyard that we nicknamed ‘the Point’ because the river winds around a little sitting and picnic area that we set up for a romantic breakfast spot just inside the woods. We have included so many different relaxing spots outside, such as the waterfall in the pond, that you get a completely different view and feel at each one. The hard part is tearing ourselves away to go to work sometimes,” confesses Becker, who says the deer come right up to the deck while they are eating. “We have many different kinds of birds, including a nesting pair of wood ducks, mallards, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and others.”
Inside, Becker has made a concerted effort to decorate the multi-generational home with a tasteful blend of accessories and collectibles from her parents’ former home and her own.
“This made the transition much easier for my parents-they felt more at home seeing all of their things all over the house. We even have a combined trophy/music room. For my latest birthday, my husband gave me a beautifully framed photo of my dad on one of his hunting adventures. It was such a wonderful tribute to my dad and so special for me. It hangs in the trophy room along with many mementos of hunting trips with my dad and our travels around the world. Caribou, Sable, Cape Buffalo and other mounts overlook a baby grand piano, overflowing bookcase, and a zebra hide we got together in Africa. Both my mom and I really appreciate having a space that unites my dad’s big loves-hunting, music, and books-and recalls all the wonderful memories we have of sharing these things with him.”
At Peace de Residence, canine family members enjoy the property along with their humans. Monte, Ranger, Dallas, and Cooper are bird dogs. Jose is a divorce therapy dog that Becker calls “a wonderful help” in “Collaborative Divorce” negotiations.
Creating a successful multi-generational home that is comfortable for all does not happen on its own. Becker offers advice to other families who might consider pooling their resources to be able to welcome aging parents into their homes and lives.
“First, make sure both the husband and wife can live with the new arrangements. I am lucky my husband loves my parents and never hesitated. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous amount of stress on the younger couple and, in many ways, an invasion of privacy. After all, it is hard to have a ‘couple’s quarrel’ with mom and dad living right downstairs.”
Becker also advises keeping all of the aging parents’ children in the loop to prevent hard feelings.
“Communicate, communicate, communicate. If I had to do anything over, I would have insisted that my parents, especially my father, have those difficult and necessary conversations with my brothers. I don’t think my parents would have made different decisions, but I do think their decisions would have been better understood if they had discussed them openly and ahead of time with my brothers.”
As the tail end of the Baby Boom generation faces the tough decisions about caring for their aging parents, many will find themselves weighing all the options.
“This happened to be the right option for my parents and my husband and me. We gained a lot and lost things as well. That is why it is important for everyone concerned to think long-term.”
Such a decision affects many aspects of a couple’s life, including the ability to accept new career opportunities, the ability to travel, and even the decision to bring more children into the family.
“The pros and cons can go on and on, so-bottom line-communicate and carefully plan the living arrangements in order to consider each person’s needs and interests,” says Becker.
Becker always knew her parents dreaded the idea of living out their final years in a nursing home.
“Although the structure and consistency of a nursing home might give my mother more social interaction, I know that she and I would miss out on the daily little ‘aha moments’ we regularly share that make it all worthwhile. Our extended family home has given me so many little magical moments with my mom that I can now carry with me for the rest of my lifetime.”
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