Speaking from a grandparent’s viewpoint, I can say with certainty and some authority that multigenerational living is disruptive, trying and exhausting. And it’s just about the best thing ever.
For three weeks this spring, my oldest daughter and her husband and three young children -- their old house sold, their new house not quite ready for them -- moved in with my wife and me.
My wife suggested the idea, but I was quick to sign on, convinced it would never happen. “Sure, we can make the offer,” I told her, “but you know how they value their privacy.”
Two weeks later, I was helping them move their beds into two of our upstairs bedrooms, the parents and 1-year-old Raymond into one, and Emma, 5, and Sophia, 4, into another.
A word about our house: It’s not particularly large, but it is expandable, able to accommodate my wife and me, my sister-in-law, our disabled adult son, our son’s nurse, and two dogs and a cat. So in a sense, squeezing in five more people, three of them pint-sized, was not difficult.
What was difficult, from the grandparents’ point of view, was adapting to the commotion that comes with three young, exuberant children.
Discounting the occasional sleepover with the grandchildren, it had been a long time since either my wife or I had any toddlers around. We quickly realized, if we hadn’t already, why people are built to have children at a relatively young age. If they weren’t, they might never reach old age, or even middle age.
Does having youngsters around the house keep you young?
In a way, but it sure is tough on the back and the knees.
Also difficult, for everyone involved, was adapting to having two more adults around, both used to running their own household. My wife and I have our routines and our habits, and our daughter and son-in-law had theirs, and it would be wishful thinking to assume those various routines and habits would never clash.
I, for example, lost for three weeks what had been my writing and exercise room, and I’d be lying if I said I never resented it. My wife and, I’m sure, our daughter and son-in-law had their own resentments.
Entire books have been written about how to deal with such resentments and the other details of multigenerational living, from the mundane (Who’s cooking tonight?) to the abstract (How do I relate to this person who was a teenager the last time we lived in the same house but is now a married mother of three?). Anyone contemplating such living would be wise to read one of those books.
But based on my own -- admittedly limited -- experience, I would suggest keeping a couple of things in mind above all else.
First, realize that the arrangement can be hard on everyone. This includes the grandchildren, who can be confused, even intimidated by having all those authority figures around. (Though let’s be honest, grandparents are famously lax authority figures, and my wife and I are no exceptions.)
Second, keep your sense of humor and your perspective. Never forget that however disruptive and trying it is at times, multigenerational living offers huge, long-lasting rewards.
It’s been a couple of months now since our daughter and her family were living here. But I still miss Emma appearing at my side of the bed at 6:30 in the morning, an impish smile on her face. I still miss seeing Sophia dressing up as a princess and dancing dreamily about our living room. And I still miss hearing Raymond’s voice echoing throughout the house, calling, “Pappa! Pappa!” as he wonders where I am and how in the world I could ignore him for more than a few seconds. (The answer: I can’t.)
They are memories now. Fond, wonderful, forever memories. Memories that have led to a stronger bond with my grandchildren, and their parents. Memories I never would have had without a few weeks of multigenerational living.