One of the most common problems faced by adult children of aging parents is the dilemma, "How much do I owe my immediate family, the nuclear unit, vs. how much do I owe my aging parents, especially if they are in need?" As we can see from the dialogue under discussion, a great deal of misunderstanding and conflict can arise around this question.
In certain cases, especially among traditional cultures, where generations live together, it is accepted that the daughters and daughters-in-law naturally assume the task of caring for the elder members of the extended family. Since there are usually several female adults in these households, childcare, parent care, cooking and housekeeping can be divided up and the stream of life goes on undisturbed.
However in modern society where each couple lives alone with their two or three children, and there are fewer siblings with whom to divide responsibilities, there are bound to be problems, especially where the "me first" philosophy is prevalent,. Often the pressure of overload falls on the chief caregiver, in this case Janice, the daughter. Too many roles and too little support from other family members place her in a precarious position.
She is under pressure from her mother's situation -- the worry, the sadness of seeing someone loved and respected deteriorate and the frustration of managing the day-to-day problems caused by her illness. She is under pressure from the paid caregivers who make it possible for the mother to stay in her own home, but they have their own needs and they must be trained and supervised.
What a Caregiver Needs is Support and Understanding
As the dialogue indicates, Janice is receiving a lot of criticism from her husband when she really needs support and understanding. Their income is reduced, since instead of working and sharing the financial burden, she now does unpaid work looking after her mother. She accepts, in principle, his complaints that the family is being neglected -- which housewife ever thinks she's doing enough for her children and spouse -- but doesn't see an out at this point in her life. Finally, she accepts responsibility for the deterioration of her son's schoolwork, which very likely might have happened even if she were home 24 hours a day.
Harvey, for his part, realizes that he's not being noble. He probably feels somewhat ashamed that he's being petty and unsympathetic to his wife. But it is impossible for him to be reasonable and mature about the situation. He cannot control his own feelings of frustration when his needs aren't being met. He feels jealousy (unreasonable, but it exists) that his wife is spending more time and energy on her mother than on him and his offspring. In addition, his unresolved antipathy towards his wife's mother from the past, have made him aggressive. He hides his exasperation behind the kids' welfare ("It's not fair to put so much burden on Rita," etc.), when all along it's he who's upset, and Janice, moreover, accedes to his charge.
Sometimes it helps for an objective outsider to step in and put things into perspective. A social worker, a physician or even a family friend can help the couple understand the source of their tension and try to see each other's view. Sometimes the two can do the negotiating themselves. If Janice can take off an evening to spend with her husband, or even go away for a weekend with him (that is, to step outside of the daily hassle), this will give her an opportunity to show him that she cares for him. She wants to spend time with him. This will allow them to share their feelings, discuss where each one of them is coming from. They might discuss the issue and try to find a solution that is acceptable to both. It might be the way to overcome the present impasse.
If the marriage is solid, built on common goals (bringing up the children, sharing each other's joys and problems) and there are strong emotional ties, it can weather the storm. Even if the problem is not solved to everyone's satisfaction now, time the great healer, will probably come to their rescue and solve the dilemma eventually. However, the hurt and misunderstanding, as well as the adverse effect family tension can cause (maybe has already caused) the children, make it worthwhile to resolve this very typical "sandwich generation" predicament now.