Living in a Multigenerational Home Has Made Me a Better Parent
One writer shares the benefits of living with her parents while raising her own children.
When I was pregnant with my daughter nine years ago, my parents left their home in Florida and moved in with us in Georgia to help us with our baby. My mother, who grew up in a multigenerational home, couldn't imagine missing a moment of her first grandchild's life. Almost a decade and another child later, we are a happy family of six.
Around 20 percent of U.S. households (64 million people) are multigenerational like ours — and the number of people bunking up with family members of different generations has only grown, steadily increasing over the last 30 years.
Personally, I've enjoyed many different benefits of the living arrangement. I have so much love, joy, and peace in my home because of our family structure, plus a wonderful support system. And my children receive their grandparents' love every day.
But one of the biggest realizations I've had is that parenting doesn't stop when your children are adults. And while every relationship and parenting and grandparenting style is unique, with an open mind and heart, I believe young parents can receive parenting gems from the very folks who raised us.
Most parents have to figure things out as they go. Because I've had the privilege of living in a multigenerational home, I believe I have a wealth of parenting knowledge and experience within reach.
Here are some of the parenting lessons I've picked up through living with my parents while raising children of my own.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
I often jokingly tell my mother that I feel like I'm living with a stranger: My parents allow my children to get away with things that I would have been scolded for as a child. Throughout the years, they've become more patient and understanding—traits that are often acquired with age.
Through their approach with my children, my parents have taught me to focus on things that matter most. They are patient and calm. Because of this, nonsensical things that used to irritate me—my kids staying up past bedtime or eating too many sweets—don't. I've learned to be more pragmatic. I'm unbothered by these things.
Perhaps this more relaxed approach—and focusing on issues that truly matter instead of the smaller bumps in the road—comes with time. I believe I've learned the lesson a little earlier by simply observing my parents' approach.
Be a Little More Flexible
As parents, it's easy to get caught up in creating and sticking to schedules for our children. My parents remind me that it's healthy for everyone to take breaks from routines. This past Halloween, I cleared my children's' afternoon schedules so that my father could carve a jack-o'-lantern with my kids for the first time. Without my parents here, I may have not broken away from our day-to-day routine to do this but I'm glad I did. It was a fun bonding moment for them, and I was able to enjoy some "me time."
Be an Active Participant in Your Kids' Lives
A couple of years ago, I would pull out a bin of balls, toys, jump ropes, and skates and tell my children to go play. I'd keep watch and make sure they were safe, responding to the constant calls of "Mommy, watch this!" with a smile and congratulatory cheers. One evening, my mom and I were reminiscing about my childhood, and she asked, "How do you want your children to remember you?" When my children reminisce about their childhood, I want them to have warm memories of me being present with them, showing love and affection, and having fun. My mother reminded me that time sweeps by so fast.
So today, instead of saying, "Go play," I say, "Let's play!" I see how much joy it brings all of us when my children have my undivided attention and I get silly along with them. I went from watching my children ride their scooters around the neighborhood to riding along with them. I am enjoying every moment because I've learned that time is our most valuable asset, and we can't get it back.
I've watched my parents show gratitude during both good and bad times. Last year, my mother underwent a painful rotator cuff surgery. After the anesthesia wore off, she didn't complain about the pain. Instead, she was thankful she had full use of her dominant shoulder.
Thanks to my parents, I've learned that gratitude should be a daily practice and I express it each day through prayer, positive thinking, and kind words. We even bought my 8-year-old daughter a gratitude journal so that she can record the many reasons she has to be grateful. I want my children to be kind, humble, and gracious adults and I know they have the greatest examples to look up to in my parents.
Live By Example
Our children are watching every move we make. They pay attention to how we act, react, the decisions we make, and how we treat others. Last year, I snapped at my daughter for raising her voice at me. I wanted her to understand the importance of respect. Afterward, my mother pulled me aside and told me I was doing the very thing I had asked my daughter not to do. My mother told me that she had made similar mistakes with me as a child and she didn't want me to repeat the cycle.
Now, I'm very careful with my approach to teaching my children lessons. Instead of raising my voice, for example, I often ask questions such as, "Do you think the way you spoke was respectful?" or "How do you think it makes people feel when you respond that way?" I've noticed that my children have learned much more from this approach.