Family Matters: Marjorie & Emma Conner

This multigenerational family profile is part of the report Family Matters: Multigenerational Living Is on the Rise and Here to Stay.

Marjorie and Emma Conner
Alexandria, Virginia

When Marjorie Conner brought her mother, Joan, from Memphis, Tennessee to stay with her daughter, Emma, and her, she thought it might be a temporary situation. Four years later she is still with them, and Marjorie is the only surviving child of four daughters, so the responsibility is all hers.

Joan, now 93, needs help with her activities of daily living and has developed some dementia of late. At first their dining room became Joan’s bedroom, and she only went upstairs for showers. It wasn’t ideal. So, when the family moved, they looked for a home that was conducive to their caregiving situation, with bedrooms and bathroom on the first floor. As the surviving spouse of a Veteran who died from a service-related injury, Joan receives some support from Veterans Affairs, and Marjorie hires paid caregivers to help out while she works.

As an attorney who works from home, she has struggled with the inherent interruptions and a certain level of chaos in any caregiving situation. “I had to work my life around to be sure that I was there or someone was with her. I couldn’t do breakfast meetings anymore,” says Marjorie. “I couldn’t have the lifestyle that I had at the time. It changed drastically.” She says she loves caring for her mother, fixing dinner for her and spending time with her. Nevertheless, it disrupts her work, and she also doesn’t exercise or socialize like she used to. “My stress levels are pretty phenomenal and this situation is a pretty big part of it.” But Marjorie says it’s worth it, knowing her mother is safe, loved and cared for at home.

Emma was 15 when her “Grammie” came to stay. Now 18, she’s a freshman in college, and while she has been on campus most of the year, she has spent some time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma has developed a special relationship with her grandmother and is grateful that she’s had these years with her. “At first it was strange because I had lived in a two-person house for so long and it turned into a three-person house, then, considering the caregivers, a five-person house,” Emma says. “It was hard to adapt at first. Now it seems completely and totally normal, and I absolutely love it.”

Emma and Marjorie both agree that dealing with the paid caregivers is one of their biggest challenges, along with the logistics of bedrooms and bathrooms. Emma now has her own space in the basement and Marjorie uses one of the bedrooms as an office. Joan has her own bedroom and bathroom. The pandemic has meant no visits from friends, losing socialization that was good for all three of them.

They also agree that they wouldn’t have it any other way. “She’s happier here and we’re happier having her with us,” says Emma. “I think it’s important for her to be surrounded by the people she loves instead of strangers.”

Editor’s note: Very sadly, Joan Conner passed on just as this report was published. We extend our deepest condolences to Marjorie and Emma Conner.

Read the full report and other family stories at Family Matters: Multigenerational Living Is on the Rise and Here to Stay.