My husband and I did this on purpose. We were not forced into it for reasons of physical infirmity or financial difficulties. Instead, we were drawn to it by the sheer force of the potential advantages we saw. Chief among those was the ability to form deep and meaningful relationships with our grandchildren.
What we chose to do was to pursue a multi-generational living arrangement.
It made the most sense to do it with our younger son and his family. His wife is an RN, and they are the ones who always told us, “Don’t worry; when you’re old, you’ll always have a place with us.” I began to think, “Why wait until we’re old; we could be of help to you now.”
My daughter-in-law was working full-time as a nurse, and they had three little girls under the age of six. And while they had fairly good arrangements for caring for the girls since my son could often work from home, they began to see some of the advantages of having “grandma and grandpa” on site.
And not just help with “babysitting.” Studies have shown just how important grandparents are in the lives of children. In one study conducted by the University of Oxford, children who had a close relationship with a grandparent showed more emotional stability, fewer behavior problems, and more resilience as adults.
First of all, we have five children. We had to check with the other four to see how they felt about it. Did they think we were “playing favorites”? After all, two of them had children as well. All four assured us that, “Hey, if that’s what you four want to do, we’re cool with it!” (Honestly, I think several of the others couldn’t imagine wanting to do such a thing!)
Second, we were clear that none of us wanted to feel like we were the “tenants” of the others. For this reason (as well as space and layout reasons), we decided to buy a new property that we could split the price of right down the middle, as joint owners.
Third, we agreed to have a number of meetings ahead of buying a property to think of “everything that could possibly go wrong” (!) and to put in writing how we would handle any difficulties. In the end, this included the stipulation that either couple could, for whatever reason, decide to break up the arrangement, with no hard feelings on either side.
Finding just the right property in our price range was a little challenging. We knew we wanted something where we could each have our private area, along with a “communal” area. My husband and I were fine having a basement apartment, but it had to have two things: a door at the top of the stairs to close off our area and its own exit.
In the end, we found a 5-bedroom home with a 3-stall garage and a walk-out basement. We spent about an additional $30,000 (evenly split by both couples) to create an office for my son on the main floor and a laundry room and fully outfitted kitchen in our area.
They have the bedrooms and two baths on the top floor, we have the walk-out basement, and the ground floor level is the communal area. We never go up to their floor without being invited and they never come down to our area without being invited, but everyone mixes freely on the main floor.
The only exception is our three-year-old grandson who often finds ways to sneak down to Grandma and Grandpa’s area. He knows he’ll get a treat of some sort before we chase him back upstairs!
It. Is. Not. Quiet. Initially, my husband and I thought we could just retreat downstairs when we wanted some peace and quiet. Well, we can go downstairs – but it is not quiet. They had three little girls when we first moved in together, and they now have four little girls and a boy (trust me, girls can be every bit as loud as little boys!)
That’s one reason why my husband and I invested in a modest little vacation spot about an hour-and-a-half north, along Lake Michigan. Nothing fancy, but it is nice to have a getaway for the occasional break.
I’d be lying if I said there were never any little tensions between my daughter-in-law and myself, but we always get past it. We agree that wherever there is good will on both sides, things can be worked out.
While the initial arrangement was financially advantageous to us (we were able to pay off our half of the new mortgage by selling our previous home, plus enough to invest in a little vacation spot), the day-to-day expenses don’t save us that much money.
Our property taxes are higher (although splitting does help) and since we evenly split the utilities, we feel we are subsidizing them somewhat: seven of them vs two of us. Plus, living with grandchildren, Grandma is apt to keep buying them little things…
We have to work extra hard to make sure we give our other grandchildren the same attention.
Too numerous to list! So many precious everyday moments; funny ones and sad ones and all the ones in between. Plus, there’s nothing like the love of a grandchild! Perhaps I can sum it up by explaining the title of this blog post.
Every night my three-year-old grandson wants me to sing him the lullaby, “Bonnie Wee.” While I am singing to him and stroking his hair, he is stroking my face. When I tell him, “Good night, my sweet little boy,” he sighs, “Good night, my sweet little Grandma” and then covers my face with kisses. It melts my heart, every single time.
You have to go back four generations on my mother’s side to find a woman who lived long enough to see a grandchild. I do not take these special moments for granted.
At the first property we considered, the Hispanic realtor for the seller looked perplexed when I told her what we were looking for. “That’s common in my culture,” she said, “but I don’t know many Americans looking for that.”
I replied, “Just watch! I think you are going to see more and more of this.” And indeed, that has been the case. In the five years since we did this, I know of at least a dozen others – friends, relatives, a co-worker – who have undertaken the same multi-generational arrangement.
In each case, it was a conscious choice, like our situation, not driven by necessity but desire. I will not be surprised to see future home construction designed with just this multi-generational desire in mind.
Would you ever consider an intentional multi-generational living arrangement? Why or why not? What do you think may be the benefits? What would be the drawbacks?