Intergenerational House Sharing
by Donna L. Scrafano
Last year, I was forced to make some major, life-changing decisions. My 90-year-old father, whom I was taking care of (and who has since died), was ailing, and his condition was getting worse. So we decided that it was best that he and I live with my daughter and her family. This decision led to big changes. The first was the sale of my family home, which we had owned for 40 years. The second was the adjustment to house sharing with my daughter, her husband, and my two grandsons, who were then 11 and 19 years old.
Moving in itself is always very stressful. Additionally, I would be downsizing a great deal. We needed to find a property that met all of our needs. And, most stressful, was the unknown about how our intergenerational living situation would work out. Unfortunately, there was no crystal ball.
During the time we spent viewing many, many prospective houses, I was also busy dismantling the old homestead. I donated many household items, clothes, furniture, antiques, etc. Trying to figure out what was keep-worthy, what was sentimental, what I could merge with my daughter’s things—i.e., Christmas decorations and such—was quite the task.
The move took place at the start of the new year. We had settled on a very nice bi-level in Bethlehem Township. Although I was more attracted to living in the center of the city, the location of our new home was convenient and close enough to my interests. Compromising is a definite component of house sharing.
Let the construction begin. I was clear about the need for me to have my own space, and quite adamant that my space could not be underground. A lower level was manageable, but not a basement. The bi-level we had purchased had a lovely lower level that was bright and cheery. Excellent. However, I needed to add on to, re-create, and re-design what was there. I was able to make it my own. I went from living in 2,000 square feet to approximately 700 square feet. All was good.
Following the busy distraction of construction, reality hit. The reality of how very different it is when residing with an adult child, an in-law, and two grandchildren. The daughter I live with happens to be much like me and a lot like my mother, Betty (strong willed, controlling, a bit stubborn but also kind, empathetic and does it all with integrity). I refer to her as “Betty on steroids.” Although we are much alike in terms of personality, I have luckily spent enough time in therapy to rid myself or at least minimize some of the less appealing traits. Good thing.
I’ve learned to accept our differences. One of them is housekeeping. I border on being OCD in my portion of the house. My daughter, on the other hand, has a different perspective. Although very clean, she’s OK with items not always having a place where they belong. I’m even OCD in my refrigerator. “Put it back where it belongs!” I say each time. Silly, I know, but it works for me.
I have also had to learn that there are some things that are just not my concern. Not my business. I find that I talk to myself a lot to remind me of just that: “Shut your mouth. It’s not your business.” For instance, having been single for the last 25 years, I tend to forget what it’s like to interact in a marital relationship. Lesson learned. I’m not, nor do I need to be, part of the marital equation that exists in the house. Thankfully so.
Then there are the grandchildren. I have always played an active part in all of my grandchildren’s lives, including, but not limited to, their discipline. Therefore, I do find myself joining in on the dynamics of how discipline in the house is administered. I do believe that most of the time this is appreciated. Other times maybe not. The now 12-year-old responds well to my participation. The 20-year-old does not. I do believe, however, that my daughter and son-in-law usually welcome it.
When I think about summarizing what it takes to succeed in this intergenerational house sharing, the following words come to mind: compromising, sacrificing, understanding, boundaries, limitations, acceptance, respect, compassion, love, enjoyment, freedom, and growth. Yes, growth. Because with every new journey you have a choice to grow or to remain the same.
Photo credit: by Donna L. Scrafano (Bethlehem PA) and Silver Sager.
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna's relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.