The Perks and Awkwardness of a Multigenerational Household
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and will be releasing an uncensored parenting humor book in 2014. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
I live with my in-laws. On purpose. Meaning, I willingly packed my bags and set up residence under the same roof that covers my wife’s parents. Some people would say it was a foolish, illogical self-inflicted attack on my own privacy and sex life. But whether you agree with those people or not, at least hear the reasons why I did it (you can still call me an idiot later, if you like).
Back in early 2011, my wife Sonia and I were living in a two-bedroom ranch. Our son Antonio was about to turn two and my wife was four-months pregnant with our second son, Nate. Looking around, we were running out of space quicker than the last person to sign your high school yearbook. The writing was on the wall (quite literally, actually). We needed to move. Sonia tentatively looked at me and said, “My parents have offered to have us move in with them. They have more space and will already be helping to watch the kids. I think it makes sense.”
I didn’t answer for at least 15 seconds. I let the concept sink in. I considered the implied benefits as well as the worst case scenarios that went along with it. I created a pros and cons list in my head that was both comprehensive and realistic. Then, as I was fully immersed in contemplation, I remembered how stupid it would be to disagree with a pregnant woman. So, the weekend that Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey (naturally), we rented out our ranch and threw caution to the wind (and trust me, with the hurricane, there was plenty of wind). There was no turning back…
Before I go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear that my in-laws are great people. They both left South America and took chances on achieving successful lives in the U.S. when they were young, and both love my children more than Garfield loves lasagna. But, of course, sharing living quarters with anyone can be awkward, no matter how “compatible” you are. Because home is where your true self creeps out. Home is where your quirks are amplified, where the words that have been bottled up in your head all day come spilling out, for better or worse. And, let’s be honest, home is typically where bodily functions are free to let themselves be seen and heard as well. The expression might be, “Home is where the heart is.” But more accurately, “Home is where the fart is.” For me, I would change that to, “Home is where you duck into the nearest bathroom to release all sounds and odors while running the faucet as loudly as possible.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, though. No matter how close you are with your in-laws, there’s always a level of formality there that you don’t have with your own parents.
If I had to summarize my experience living in a multigenerational household, I’d say the highs are high and lows are low. The most significant benefit, of course, is the help we get with our sons. Everything from picking my boys up from school, taking them to doctors appointments when we’re at work, and plenty in between, my in-laws do it. I’m well aware that some people likely think we’re spoiled rotten having this live-in assistance, but to just assume we’re living in the lap of luxury is short-sighted and uninformed. Everyday, we all help each other. It’s a two-way street. We split living costs. When we have a party, they help out. When they have a party, we help out. We’re a team. Simple as that. And for all four adults in the house, there are sacrifices made. For me personally, those sacrifices have been costly at times. If you’re currently heading toward this situation, this is the part you need to consider.
Your ego. Your pride. Your privacy. Those are the items you need to leave at the front door once you move into a house that doesn’t have your name on the deed. Admittedly, I’m two years into this living situation and I still occasionally struggle with these obstacles. It might sound simple, but swallowing your pride and accepting that you’re a “guest” in your own quasi-home is no easy task. I never imagined I’d be in my 30s, married with children, yet still not technically the “man of the house.” Also, there’s something inherently uncomfortable about sleeping with someone’s daughter a mere two bedrooms away from them. Married or not, it makes you feel like you’re 14 and pretending to do homework together. And good luck ever ironing naked again. Sadly, that’s off the table.
Aside from the privacy you lose, another thing that must be considered is consistency. You now have four adults collectively raising a child. Four adults who individually have their own respective ideas on how a child should be nurtured, how much sugar they should have in their diets, how much television they should be allowed to watch, etc. It’s not easy. You just have to be fortunate to where the differences in approach aren’t drastic enough to cause a divide between you and your child’s grandparents, or even worse, you and your spouse. So, before you even start your new living arrangement, be sure to have a collective conversation about diet, discipline, and overall direction for your kids (as well as a layout of expected responsibilities). You’ll see that if you don’t, it makes for some pretty uncomfortable moments later on.
When you make the decision to move in with your parents or your spouse’s parents, it is one of the last decisions you’ll make for the foreseeable future that isn’t a decision by committee. Because everything from picking out a Christmas tree to the temperature in the house is no longer a two-person judgment call. I like my Christmas trees tall, English is my first language and I sweat if it’s warmer than 72 degrees in the house. My in-laws are, you guessed it, the exact opposite. I feel bad saying anything so I end up sweating while decorating a tiny Christmas tree, utterly lost and confused as my wife’s family tells jokes in Spanish.
But at the end of the day, what makes it all worthwhile is that it’s temporary and you’re doing it for your children. They may never thank you for it, but if you ever find yourself awkwardly spraying a deodorizer as your mother-in-law walks into the bathroom after you’ve destroyed it with your nastiness, know that you’re breaking down that fourth wall for the greater good of your kids. Despite all the awkwardness, that’s all that matters. So, should you decide to bite the bullet and add some more place settings to the dinner table, be prepared for growing pains, but rest assured that you’re enriching your children’s lives by allowing them to grow up so close to their grandparents. And that, my friend, is worth sweating over.
Are you in a similar situati0n or considering it? Join the conversation and add a comment below! I’d love to hear from you.
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