By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: I’m a 40-something living with my parents.
In American society, that’s not a popular thing to say. People assume something went terribly wrong if you find yourself under the same roof with your parents after the age of 18. But I’m beginning to realize there are some situations that make a multi-generational home feel just right.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Since 2007, multi-generational living arrangements have increased in the United States by about 30 percent, according to the 2016 Pew Research report. Homebuilders are even designing new homes and entire sections of neighborhoods that feature a main house with an attached smaller house with its own exterior entrance, parking, and kitchen. There’s an interior door that connects the two homes, but other than that, the home offers separate living spaces for each family unit, along with the cost efficiency and convenience of being under one roof. They call it “Next Gen” living.
Sometimes it’s the elderly parents who live in the small home, and sometimes it’s a younger adult child. In our case, we built a smaller home for my parents onto the back of our home, and it’s connected by the backyard deck as well as a door that leads from one house to the other through the garage.
Our three kids, ages 16, 14 and 11, were the biggest cheerleaders for this new arrangement. I think they like the idea of knowing that, even when they’re in trouble with their parents, the unconditionally adoring grandparents are right next door.
But the kids aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed that sharing a roof with extended family has some perks. Here are the top three we’ve noticed so far:
Food: As I’ve admitted in past columns, I can cook enough to keep three kids and a husband alive but not necessarily the kind who can delight them with delicious dishes. My mother, on the other hand, is a true Southern cook who never met a can of Crisco she didn’t like.
She can debone a chicken before the bird knows what hit it. She knows the difference between condensed milk and evaporated milk and always has both in her pantry. And we’re convinced her homemade potato soup has healing properties.
Even our beagle, Charlie, has realized that having grandparents next door is a real bonus. When we let him out into the backyard each morning, he makes a quick lap around the yard to answer nature’s call and then promptly trots up to my parents’ sliding glass door on the deck. Then he puts on his best “sad, hungry puppy face” and stares in at my mother until she slides open the door and lets him come inside for a bowl of dog food. It took us a while to realize that Charlie had learned to work the system in order to get two breakfasts each day – one at their house and one at mine.
Function: Having two separate homes in one house has given us the benefit of back-up. The month after my parents moved in, our washing machine died a sudden death. Instead of schlepping dirty laundry to a laundromat, I simply carried it next door to use their stackable washer and dryer for a few days while we waited for our new washer to be delivered.
When my parents run out of milk, we have it over here. When I run out of bread, I can get it over there. It’s a little like having a grocery store right next door, minus the wobbly-wheeled shopping cart.
It’s also easier now to help each other out at a moment’s notice. When she needs someone to set up her cable box, we’re right next door. When I need someone to pick up a kid from band practice, she can swing by to get him on her way home. Whoever came up with the old phrase “Many hands make light work” probably lived with his parents.
Foresight: The last time I lived with my parents, I was a teenager who knew everything. Then I moved away to college and quickly realized I didn’t know much at all.
I’m glad that, this time around, I can borrow and learn from their wisdom instead of stubbornly insisting I can juggle all of life’s curveballs on my own.
And at the end of the day, there’s an undeniable comfort and peace in knowing that your favorite people are safe in their beds in one sacred place – home.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.