Multigenerational living {reflections on the great & not so great}

I feel so fortunate when I find other families who have a multigenerational living arrangement. It is nice to find others who understand some of the challenges and the many benefits of this family structure. Often we talk about some differences, but many commonalities surface when we start discussing what is going on in our various nests.

My recent sit-down was with Simone. I think we talked for almost two hours.

Simone’s nest

Simone:  38

Husband:  38

Sons:  17, 14, and 3

Daughter:  1

Simone’s Mother: 74

How long have you had a full nest?

Well, my mother lived with us in 1998-2000 to help us with childcare, and then we had a break. She returned to live with us in 2009.

Why did she return in 2009?

I had another baby and my health was not that good. Again, my mother wanted to help with childcare and I really needed her. My youngest was born early and I was nervous about leaving her with someone else once I returned to work. As a working mom, childcare issues and cost are stressful, especially when with a new baby. Where we live, there aren’t many infant childcare places that I liked.

When your mom returned to live with you, what type of moving or relocating was involved?

My mother only had to move about 74 miles. She was in a different city, but we live in the same state. She did not have to sell her house and that made things easier.

What did you need to do to prepare for her arrival?

We had to restructure the way we were using space in the house. Some areas became crowded so we had to look into a storage space. We rearranged rooms and my older sons had to share a bedroom. My mother moved into the lower level of our house, since we have a split level. She has her own sitting area and bathroom.

We wanted my mother to feel comfortable living with us, so she brought her own dishes and some of her furniture.

How did the discussions, with your husband go, when you asked your mom to return to live with you?

Well, we didn’t really discuss it. My mother can sometimes be dominating and outspoken. She pretty much made the decision to move back in with us based on the “chaos” of our home. My mother and I had discussed the possibility of her moving back in, and then she pretty much told my husband she was returning.

Are you serious? That would not have gone over well with me if my mother-in-law did that.

My husband initially blew if off when my mother first mentioned it.

OK, so how did things work out the second time around? I mean, I know your mother is not living with you all anymore.

It was more stressful this time around. It is hard to pinpoint why, but here are some of the things that happened. There seemed to be a lot more confusion and there were many times I felt like crying.

I felt stressed out a lot. I was working from 7am-4pm everyday and then taking courses three-nights a week. Work was tense, my courses were challenging, and then the additional tension at home. I felt like all I did was supervise at home.

We had too many bosses in the house and we were not on the same page. I always felt like I was in the middle. My husband and my mother put me in the role as mediator. I was not going to choose sides, and I wanted to have a peaceful home.

And then I had working mother guilt because the baby was wanting my mom more than me.

I can relate to what you just said. When my mother-in-law moved it, I initially worried that my youngest would want her more than me. Hmmm…

Can you identify or describe the things that contributed to this confusion? I ask this because others who might be considering a multigenerational household need to have an idea of potential pitfalls.

Yes, it’s good you asked this.

My mother, from my view point, was trying to parent everyone in the house. This included my husband and the children – as well as me. My mother always felt the need to step in when my husband and I would be working through something with our children. I can understand that she was around the kids a lot, but it was our (Simone and her husband) job to discipline our children. I know the kids felt torn at times.

Cooking became an issue. When my mother first moved in (the second time), I was still recovering from having my daughter, so my mother prepared the meals about 80% of the time. I was grateful for this because it was one less thing I had to worry about while I recovered.

Once I was feeling better, I wanted to start cooking again because I enjoyed it and I love cooking meals for my own family. My husband and I enjoy cooking together too. Basically, I wanted to be back in charge of my house.

My mother did not want to give the cooking up. She was very dominant about this. I started to feel uneasy about asking my mother if it was OK for me to cook in my own house. I know this situation was emotionally challenging to my mother as well.

My mother had been doing most of the grocery shopping  as well as caring for the children, and I was giving her a small stipend to show her we appreciated her support. One day my mother decided she was going to charge us for childcare and that was shocking. Then the next day she changed her mind about charging us. I know this was emotionally driven because she was feeling like we were not needing her as much anymore.

What put an end to your multigenerational living arrangement?

I knew things were coming to a head when my husband voluntarily went from first shift to third shift. By working third shift, he did not have to interact with my mother as much, but that was an additional strain on us as a couple because we had opposing schedules.

My mother finally decided to move out because she thought my husband was too difficult to live with. She thought he was too moody and not appreciative of what she was doing for us.

That was hard, but it was time for her to move out because the situation was not overly positive.

Where is your mother now?

She lives down the street from us, about four houses away. It’s good now and our relationship is healthy.

I know there were some good times during this multigenerational living arrangement. Do you want to highlight these?

Thank you, Kanesha, for asking this. Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on what is not working.

My mother is great and she loves her grandchildren. I loved watching my kids interact with my mother and I loved seeing their loving relationship grow.

When my health wasn’t the greatest, my mother anticipated my needs and helped me focus on getting better. This took the full burden off my husband. I love how sensitive and understanding my mother was about all of this.

As a parent, it was so comforting for me to be at work or at school and know my children were well taken care of. There is security in that and I could focus on my work and coursework without being distracted.

My mother gave my husband and me the gift of time. She would run errands that could take us all day if we waited until the weekend.

After all of this, what advice would you offer current multigenerational families, or families considering a multigenerational living arrangement?

Be sure to talk about the roles and responsibilities in rearing the children (grandchildren). Make sure everyone knows who really has the final say and how everyone can support each other with this.

If the grandparent(s) are helping with childcare, discuss whether the grandparent(s) will be compensated and identify the expectations so everyone can be in agreement upfront.

Set up time to have a family monthly meeting so everyone can openly discuss what’s going on. Set up rules for communication so the monthly meeting stays positive.

Remember to be respectful of others in all interactions.

Always, no matter what, do a group hug after good and tense talks. Show love after all is said is done so you all can stay close as a family.

Thank you, Simone.

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