Many years ago, when I was in junior high school, we hung up a blanket across our dining room doorway to close it off from the rest of the living space. Our house was only three bedrooms, all upstairs, and my grandmother moved in that year.
That blanket over the doorway transformed our dining room into a new bedroom, creating a private space for my grandmother. Learning as a preteen to share space and adapt to another loved family member’s rhythms and needs was foundational to my adaptability as an adult, and made me a more flexible and compassionate person.
Intergenerational living shaped my younger years, and it’s still shaping my family dynamic today. Now in my household, we spend many of our days as a family of seven: my husband and myself, our four children, and my dear mother-in-law. Living life together, generations under one roof, teaches us lessons and benefits everyone involved.
Many families are sheltering together right now, making indefinite adjustments and practicing a level of closeness that was previously unthinkable. I would like to share all the best and most priceless parts of our experience over the last few years as encouragement and help for families currently navigating a new normal.
It might seem obvious, but I believe my children benefit most from this arrangement. More adults in the home means more hands to help them, more ears to listen to their endless stories, and more arms to give hugs. There are more goodnight kisses given, more prayers said with my children, and more songs sung to them.
Each adult gives his or her own method and suggestions for tackling troubling homework. We share and bake family recipes, with small hands helping older ones. My children also cherish that when they wake up, they can have special breakfast that grandma cooks for them.
My husband and I benefit from this shared living space too. It’s refreshing to be able to bounce ideas off another person, especially one who has already raised children. Having another adult in the home means always having someone for grown-up conversations, someone with a sophisticated sense of humor, and someone to watch movies and shows with.
My mother-in-law and I have spent countless hours talking about the news, media, current events, and things we’ve seen or read that we wanted to think through. We spent a long day watching a movie theater special of “Gone with the Wind” for its 80th anniversary, eating snacks, and talking about our favorite moments.
Date nights or evening plans involving both my husband and me don’t include the stress of finding a safe and reliable babysitter, because who could possibly care more about children than their own family? Spending time together as a whole family unit means forging routines together and accomplishing tasks together. It’s different than it would be if it were just our nuclear family, but it’s an opportunity for us to find new ways to do things, often devising better solutions for life than those we started with. Our flexibility and consideration of each person’s differing needs makes us better and kinder people.
This arrangement is also wonderful for my mother-in-law, a vibrant, social woman, full of interests and a lifetime of things that bring her joy. After the tragic death of my father-in-law from cancer, we asked her to come join us.
Our home, filled with children, is never quiet. Grief-filled moments immediately meet hugs from children, sincere love from family, and shared memories. Our family is boisterous and frequently full of wild plans to help our community and church; we love including her in each moment of this.
Growing up, my grandmother was an intense woman. I didn’t always understand her as a child, but as an adult, I think I do. I treasure all the moments we spent together. I don’t think I would have the same understanding of her without our daily life together. An intergenerational home allows you to make memories with family outside big special moments, forging a deep connection and a continuity of care.
My grandmother’s love of beauty, creation, and crafting lives strong in me. I’m passing it down to my children, teaching them to appreciate little spots of hope and wonder throughout their day. I hope they will also internalize attributes of my mother-in-law from daily life, passing along memories and traditions of our shared lived history.
Society as a whole should embrace sharing living spaces when possible, permanently or intermittently. Our lives are richer when we live together, sharing joys and sorrows, growing together. All three generations in my home benefit from this arrangement, day by day, in both calm and crisis.