Living with Grandparents

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Abbie and her Grandpa

I used to sit in the garden with my grandpa and whistle at the birds.  Sometimes, when there were no birds chirping, he would break the silence by whistling and looking up, challenging me to find the sparrow.  Everyday after school, I would come home and find him sitting under the olive tree in his chair, his plaid pants pulled over his round stomach, his white short sleeve collared shirt neatly tucked in, happy to see me.  The 82 years that were between us was no barrier at all.  My parents had decided that he was too old to live alone and had made room for him in our home, where his nurse would eventually live too.  Many afternoons, I would bring him a toasted cheese sandwich and a glass of apple juice.  This was the only snack I knew, as an eight year old, to make.  Sometimes we would just sit quietly.  Sometimes we chatted.  Always I truly, deeply loved him.  “One day” my mother told me, “you’ll take care of us.”

Three years ago my husband and I decided to sell our home and move in with my parents.  There were many reasons behind this decision.  Finding the funding for this little company was taking longer than we could afford and pouring all our money into it AND keeping a roof over our heads was no longer an option.  My daughter needed to attend kindergarten and the school in my childhood neighborhood was exceptional.  And then there was dad.  My father had fallen and was in the hospital for pneumonia.  I remember the nurses lifting his body from the stretcher onto the x-ray machine to get a picture of his lungs.  He seemed a shell of himself.  And I knew my mother’s prediction had come.  It was time to move back into the home I grew up in.  At the time of this decision, dad was 91.  The house was big and empty and cold.  It needed the life my family would bring to it.  HE needed the life my family would bring to it. And so, for that reason and many others, we moved in.

Dad and Charlie

Leaving our sweet home in a nearby neighborhood, I vowed to return.  But I also knew my husband and I had committed to caring for my dad until the end.  When the moving van left, having dropped off the last box of our belongings, I closed my new (old) bedroom door and cried into a box of cupcakes my friend had brought over as an ironic “welcome home” gift.  How would I continue to thrive as the independent, ambitious, go-getter I had been for 20 years on my own?  How would my husband and I ever sneak an intimate moment in the kitchen again?  What the hell was I getting myself into?  The tears were deep and real and lasting. I was mourning my former independent self and my future as a care-taker of an aging father who I wanted around forever.

Abbie’s Dad and her kids

The first two weeks weren’t pretty.  I regressed into my 16-year-old self.  “Don’t ask me where I am going!” I would bark at my mother as she cheerfully waved to me as I left for the day.  “Do I have to say good-morning before I’ve even had my coffee?”  Nothing felt like my home – it just felt like hers.  But then things started to settle.  After about six months, I started to exhale.

We staked our boundaries.  Two refrigerators – one for my parents and one for us.  A must.  Our own living space where we could be our own little family, away from them.  Parenting stakes were placed in the shared ground.  We made clear we were the parents of our children, and they would have to bite their tongues when we didn’t force our kids to finish all their dinners…or do anything else differently than how they’d raised me.  And room by room, I cleared out the tchotchkes, the clutter, I repainted, I redecorated, updated the landscape. I made the home less of a reflection of my childhood and more of a reflection of our shared circumstance. It felt empowering.  And we started to settle in.  My mom joked, “you inherited your childhood home, just with your parents still living in it.”  It didn’t sound so bad…It wasn’t so bad.

We had built-in babysitters!  We would cook; mom would clean. There were everyday benefits.  But longer term, what made it all worth it, of course, was seeing my aging dad have a reason to get up in the morning, get out of his pjs, and come downstairs.  My daughter would bring him cards and challenge him to gin.  (He never let her win.) She would come home from her jazz dance class and show him her latest routine.  And she would kiss him goodnight.

Mom and Charlie

When my son was born a year later, there was a moment when I could have sworn my father’s age was working in reverse.  He seemed to remember more things, make more jokes, walk a little taller.  Could it be possible that all those homemade, shared dinners and late night decaf talks were giving him renewed purpose?  All of his friends might have passed, but he surely had one helluva present.

Then one day – perhaps a year later – it hit me.  My parents were giving my family as much as we were giving them.  My son Charlie worshipped his grandparents.  Even as an infant, Charlie would reach up and be soothed by my dad’s whiskers.  He would bring him board books and sit on his lap.  He would help push his walker.  He nestled on my mom’s lap and shared her every English Muffin breakfast.  And when she cooked dinner, he would put on his teeny apron and be her sous chef.

Beside all the obvious lessons about aging and making family a priority and how we should take care of our parents when they age, there was more.  My children would remember their grandparents forever.  They, like I, would have fond memories – in the same exact house – of making silly faces and telling tales.

Perhaps, hopefully, one day my husband or I will sit under the same olive tree in the garden, sharing a homemade snack with our children’s children.  And maybe when it’s quiet, we’ll hear the birds chirping and tell them stories of their great grandpa who would ask us to search for the sparrow. — Abbie Schiller, TMC Founder and CEO

Please share your thoughts/anecdotes/musings about this topic below in the comments section.  We love hearing from you!

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series,  along with our beautiful children’s booksappsmusichandmade dolls, and more.

Posted in: Family, Identity, Modern Parenting, Parental Wisdom, The Mother Co. Mamas

Comments (32)

  1. Larina

    Thank you for this. i grew up with my mom and my grandparents. Now, years later, i am the mom, with husband and two boys. my grandfather passed five years ago and now my grandmother lives alone. nearly 88 and with looming dementia among other health problems. my husband and I have made the choice to leave our own little home and move in with her. i have been really struggling with this choice, i am grieving over our loss of independence, coping with anxiety over the reality that i will be her primary caregiver, knowing she was far from an easy person before any of her medical and mental issues progressed. three of her children want her to go in a nursing home, something she has been adamantly against as far back as i can remember, so i know in my heart that moving back is the right decision…thank you for aharing your story, it has helped

  2. Christina

    Despite this post being over 2 year old…I am compelled to post. My husband, 2 year old daughter and pregnant self have been living alone in my grandparents home & homestead for the past 5 months as we repaint, declutter, clean, and groom the 20 acre estate back to its former glory and get ready for them to come home this January. My grandfather (92) has severe dementia and after breaking both his hips within one year of each other is wheelchair bound and 100% percent deaf. My 5 months sober grandmother(87) fell and broke her hip 5 months ago, is nearly blind and uses a walker. We are trying to help fulfill their wishes to remain in their home until their final days. Thankfully, because of their frugal living and astute financial planning they have enough assets to cover any and all care giving costs for at least another decade. I will be leaving my job of 7 years to become their full time support. We are excited for the opportunity but terribly nervous at the same time and so I take great comfort in knowing that in many ways, we are not alone in our pending endeavors, Thank you for an honest portrayal of familial care-giving!

  3. Rachel

    Thanks for your article. My dad lives with us and even though there are definite stresses attached to being sandwiched between two 4-year olds and a 94 year old, I know that this is way families should be. We are all the richer for it.

  4. Lorraine

    It’ll be 3 years this August that I’ve lived in the same apartment building with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. I wouldn’t have it any other way, the richness they provide myself, my husband and our 2 kids is immeasurable. Our weekly Sunday night dinners often include an acknowledgement of how lucky we are in our circumstances and how thankful we are for it.

  5. Angela

    I also cried. Although we did not live with them my children had a very close relationship with their grandparents. I think it was one of the best gifts we all could have given them.

  6. Dawn Conti-jordan

    I envy you. I did not have a relationship with my parents, and could not wait to leave the house and be on my own. When they passed, I felt nothing.

  7. Lorette Lavine

    I grew up with my grandmother and I cannot imagine anything different. She made an indelible mark on my life along with my mother. Now my granddaughter is close to me and it is so beautiful for me to watch her grow…I hope she will remember me as I remember my grandmother. It is the “loop” of parenting.

  8. eleanor

    This is my family, we moved house a year and half ago and my parents live with us. My youngest age 6 adores spending time with them, sometimes he’ll even choose to eat with them depending on whats on the menu:). I grew up with my grandparents in the house and it really does teach children about respect and appreciation for the aged.

  9. Olivia K.

    That was a truly heartwarming tale of your childhood. It’s inspiring to think about growing up in a multi-generation household. My kids probably won’t get to do that because my husband and I don’t have that type of relationship with our respective parents, but our children do get to see their grandparents frequently and it’s great for them. It really brings new and powerful meaning to all concerned.

    I think in our current society where life is so fragmented and many people are very isolated, it’s important to strive for family togetherness. I also think one of the (few) positive unintended consequences of the weak economy is that more people are revisiting this multi-generational household model.

    • Abbie

      Olivia – It’s so true. Our current society doesn’t encourage family togetherness as much as other cultures and yet, it has so many benefits. As of 2010, 4.4 million families had more than 3 generations living in one home so perhaps the numbers will continue to grow.

  10. Malcolm and Kathy Sher

    What a wonderful article. Love the pictures.
    Kathy and I can visualize “Pop”, as we called him, sitting there and whistling like a bird. We miss him a lot, talk often about him and his zest for life. We look forward to seeing you soon.
    Malcolm and Kathy

    • Abbie

      How nice that you saw this! Thanks for your comment.

  11. Adrienne Grant

    I LOVE this article, Abbie! So lovingly inspired – such beautiful images. You, your parents, and your children are genuinely blessed with one another. Can I move in too?

  12. Ariane gold

    Abbie- beautiful telling if your home life. You make it sound so appealing!!! I may just ask my parents to come down to NYC and move in with the boys and I!!!

  13. Susan Stiffelman

    Precious piece, Abbie. I LOVE it! So sweet, and such a harking to how I think we’re meant to raise our children–as a tribe. Well done you!

  14. Jackie

    Four years ago, I too, along with my husband and then 18-month-old son moved from LA back into my child hood home in suburban NY. What we imagined to be a temporary solution turned into a genuine multi-generational household for almost a year as we regained our financial footing, waited for my husband’s travel to slow, and searched for a place of our own. Reading your beautiful recount allowed me to skim all that was good and rich off the top of my own simmering pot of experiences from that time. Along with my parents, we also shared the house with my 92-yr-old grandmother who still lights up at the mere mention that my son (and now daughter) are coming for a visit. We’ve since moved on — first into our own home in NY and then back to LA — but I credit the very close and loving relationship that my children have with my family to that priceless experience. Thank you so very much for sharing, Abbie, and reminding me of how lucky I am.

    • Abbie

      It is so validating to hear from others who have had this experience too. So glad this post touched you. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Kristen M.

    We recently had my father-in-law live with us, in our little home for seven weeks. He is a caring man, played endless games of Connect 4 with the kids, lovingly but begrudgingly ate the vegetarian meals that I made, missing his meat and potatoes, and ran errands with me and my son when my oldest was at school. It was an adjustment, but the time spent over pb and j, the slower pace while wandering Target, and watching him interact on a daily basis with the kids were gifts. I cried when he left…life is surprising, isn’t it?

    • Abbie

      Love the picture you painted. What a lovely comment – thank you.

  16. armonia

    loved this! I grew up with my grandmother in our house , she lived there until i was 28, it is the best thing ever to get to know this type of love and to now when i remeber my childhood, i think I was blessed. I was always at home with my own family and my parents also had the confidence to leave for their date nights.
    thank you for this, I believe this should be more of the normal iin our society today.

    • Abbie

      I love that you call it “this type of love” because it really is different and special for kids to have this connection. I wish it were more “normal” for today too.

  17. Terry

    Beautiful story Abbie. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Marc

    I was not blessed to live in the same city with my grandparents, let alone the same house. And because of that all I have are stories of what they were like along with the too-few phone calls each year to piece together an image of who they were. It’s a beautiful experience you must be having and you shared it so vividly. Great post!

    • Abbie

      Thanks Marc – I totally understand. I cling to the few memories I have of my grandmother – who lived 3 hours away.

  19. girls gone child

    This is exquisite. So are you.

    • Abbie

      Coming from you – beyond honored. Thank you.

  20. caroline

    I was blessed to grow up with my grandparents as well. Living in a multi generational household truly made me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t have traded my time with my beloved grandma and grandpa for anything.

    • Abbie

      Such incredible memories. Thanks for sharing, Caroline.

  21. Samantha

    You made me cry! My parents now live a block away from me, and we spend our lives, by choice, as one centralized family. It’s not the same home, but I agree with you — the gift of family is a two-way road.


    • dani shear

      Purpose is everything and you validate it beautifully. Thank you for a gorgeous story of multi-generational love and spirit.

      • Abbie

        Thank you Dani. Appreciate it.

    • Abbie

      How wonderful! It’s so rare to have our “villages” so close.