Helping to Raise Grandchildren: A Case Study
Many people look forward to the years after their children are grown, anticipating a time when they can return to easier, more carefree lives with fewer responsibilities. For some, though, being footloose and fancy free isn’t in the cards; they find that for any number of reasons, they are called on to help raise a new generation of children--their grandchildren.
One Grandfather’s StoryThe kids call him Papa, and while Gary might not have been able to foresee the life he’s currently living, he’s found that his retirement years are pretty good with his eldest daughter and her three children sharing his home. The kids, ages 19, 12, and 9, and their mother, moved in a number of years ago. “They moved in because they needed help. They are still here because we all recognize that we need each other,” says Gary.
The Multi-Generational HouseholdSome families may have a hard time adjusting when they make the decision to live under one roof after having been independent, but for Gary and his family, the transition was fairly seamless. When asked about what sorts of adjustments he needed to make in the beginning, he replied, “Very few. We do communicate schedules so there is always an adult with the two little ones. That is nothing I wouldn't do anyway with a spouse or even a roommate.”
Gary’s household may be the exception, but in the years since his daughter moved home, they’ve experienced no real conflicts. Some of the areas where one might expect disagreements to arise—house rules, the delegation of chores, and discipline of the children, for example—present no difficulties for Gary and his grown daughter. “We discuss what is going on and we don't allow the kids to play one of us against the other. I think my wife and I used to bump heads more with our kids than our daughter and I do.”
Helping Each OtherWhen Gary’s daughter and grandchildren first came to live with him and his wife, none of them probably imagined that the arrangement would be as long-lasting as it has been. About a year after the move, Gary’s wife became ill. She has since passed away and while some men in his situation would be living rather solitary lives, Gary’s days are filled with activity and his home is filled with love. “I think my daughter and I complement each other and can lean on each other as needed. I really can't imagine living here by myself,” he says.
Gary’s daughter has some health problems, but when asked how much of the slack he picks up due to her illness, he quickly replied, “I don't feel as though I'm picking up slack. I do those things that I'm better equipped to do at the time.” In addition to providing some of the kids’ transportation, he is in charge of the family’s laundry, and says that he usually does the wash when everyone is at work and school and he has the place to himself. “I don't mind doing it.”
Attitudes are ContagiousGary’s positive outlook has certainly made a difference in how well he, his daughter, and his grandchildren coexist. Instead of focusing on the potential pitfalls of living together, he has chosen to concentrate on the benefits. And there is no doubt that when grandparents are hands-on caregivers for their grandchildren, both generations reap enormous benefits. Children gain an added sense of security when they have the love and guidance of their grandparents, making the kids more likely to grow up feeling confident and capable. And from a grandparenting standpoint, the closeness that they develop with their children’s children is far greater when they are allowed to participate in the kids’ everyday lives.
Gary’s 12 year old granddaughter is autistic, and because he is an integral part of her day-to-day life, he sees her in a very realistic and complete light, something he may not have been able to do if they lived far from one another. “She has problems and successes just like any other child. She is part of the family and accepted with all her foibles much like they accept me with mine. There are times when she needs more attention, but we all do. She is "high functioning" and at times is less difficult than any of us.”
The Key to Cohesive Multi-Generational Living“You must recognize that your son or daughter is an adult and deserves the respect that you would want. And the respect goes the other way too,” says Gary, who has established just such an environment of mutual respect in his household. Not only is this a recipe for a happy home, it is also a good guideline for creating a healthy atmosphere in which to raise children.
When kids grow up seeing the important adults in their lives being kind, helpful, and considerate toward one another, they naturally assume these same habits. When you are accustomed to behaving respectfully, the normal conflicts that arise in day-to-day life don’t get blown out of proportion because each person is willing to give a little and try to see the situation from the other’s perspective. Gary sums it up perfectly when he says, “Our situation works for us. I think the answer is mutual respect as well as open communication.”