Multigenerational families are coming up with many creative solutions to the problem of wanting to live together while respecting everyone’s need for personal space. When Benning’s first grandchild was born, she and her husband decided to give their home to their son and daughter-in-law and move into an apartment they made in a barn that stood 150 feet from the main house on their property. Their extended family shares a homestead instead of a home, which helps create some boundaries.
In other situations, families are renovating or building to accommodate grandparents. Some families have even sold both their and the grandparents’ houses, pooled their resources and then purchased a larger home that can accommodate everyone’s needs. “Another way to do it is to build an attached apartment to the main house,” says Sharon Graham Niederhaus, author with John L. Graham of Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living (M. Evans, 2007). “In another scenario, a mother was recruited to come to Oregon from the East Coast to help baby-sit her grandkids. They built a cottage in the backyard for her.”
When Chicke and Michael Fitzgerald’s nanny quit, they decided that instead of hiring another sitter, they would buy a house across the street from their Tampa, Fla., home for Michael’s mother, Julia. The children are now 8 and 10 years old, so the Fitzgeralds’ primary child care needs are in the evenings, on weekends and during the summer. With Julia Fitzgerald, 87, Chicke and Michael have reliable child care as well as the peace of mind that comes with having an older relative so close by.
“Grandma is the first line of child care,” says Chicke, 51. “She keeps them probably two nights a week on weekends, so that means Saturday and Sunday mornings we have our time alone. The kids love it. I think it’s what keeps Grandma young and healthy. And it takes some of the pressure off of our feeling like we have to have her over for dinner every night, or that she needs to be here.”
If a spare bedroom is the only option, there are other ways to ensure grandparent privacy and comfort. “If you don’t have space to give them their own sitting room, then make sure that grandparents have their favorite chair in the living room and a space to keep the things that are important to them,” says Goyer. “A grandparent may be giving up so much to come and live with the family, giving them a little bit of space can help them feel a little bit more normal in their life.”
But grandparents say what they have given up is trumped by what they have received. “Your grandkids love you because you love them back. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like,” Turner says. “I really can’t imagine anything that would be more rewarding than what I am doing, for any amount of money.”
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about families and health from Rockaway Beach, N.Y.