Some Notes on Multi-Generation Living

“Generations of vacuum cleaners have sustained themselves on very little but dust and pieces of Lego .”  Mr Petit Paradis

When my mother-in-law came to live with us following the passing of the Prof, I had no idea what to expect. My terms of reference for such a life altering event such as this was the numerous families in South-East Asia that I had experienced living with multiple generations under one roof. Seemingly in peace and tranquility.

I wondered how this might translate to a Western-style arrangement. Would it be a good idea? Would it work? After over two years now of such living conditions my response would be something like – nice idea, good try, but not so much.

Daily I see an increasing list of issues which arise and often are not dealt with – at least within reasonable time given our busy life. Which of course adds to the problem, thus compounding some of the difficulties.

Age Difference: Gran likes to stay up late and watch TV – loudly – ‘cos she can’t hear as well. Her choice of TV matches her choice of food. Glossy, packaged, full of punch and delivers very little substance. Remember, this is from two years of experience, so allow me to tell it how it is.

How does this relate on a daily basis?  Our young boys share the bedroom next door to their Gran and are frequently disturbed by the noise level, police sirens on TV shows, the music levels and adverts. This montage of sounds is what they usually have to fall asleep to.

So Mum stays up late watching TV or reading and then wants to sleep in. Not so easy!

Our young boys are up ready for the day anywhere between 5 and 6 am. And because we live in a raised house with floating wood floors and we feed our boys nutritious food, when they get up everyone knows about it. They are full of energy, loud – despite efforts to reduce this exuberance so early in the morning. And there is little that can stand between them and their Lego. And I’m sure you can imagine how noisy Lego can be at the best of times. Six in the morning is not a Lego-friendly hour.

Food Choices: Food differences I have written about here. But what I will add is that there is often a mild disturbance at the table when Gran is eating a certain food of choice in comparison to what I might have served up for the rest of the family. For the large part (thankfully!) it’s not so much a desire for the food Gran is eating but simply because it is different to what the rest of the family are having. What we are having might be something like grilled sweet potato, fish, cauliflower gratin, stir-fry, salad….. usually a mix of some sort of meat and plenty of vegetables. Gran will get a favourite food of choice when we are eating something she either doesn’t like, can’t eat or simply won’t eat. As our boys begin to grow and their taste alters I can only see this as becoming a more frequent occurrence as we introduce more and more vegetables and different foods into their diet. Particulary when the new garden is established and we are eating more and more from what we are growing independently.

Much to Grans disdain, the Diabetes Nurse has recently requested that Gran look at her diet of highly refined carbs, focussing mainly on vegetables. Not a happy Gran for a while there.

To summarise on this, Gran is much better off with us for the most part. Here is my offering of observations for you to consider, should you find yourself in such circumstances.

Gran is shocked into bouts of interaction with our young boys whether she wants it or not and we think this does her the world of good.

Gran is able to be catered for much more easily and in a more tailor-made fashion. When Prof. was sick we would cook meals and home deliver. With young kids this formed part of a major accomplishment for the day and a good chunk of time. On numerous occasions we could not cope and were compelled to order Lite & Easy meals to be delivered to ease the stress and the load. This is not sustainable in itself. It made a huge impact when Gran moved in with us just by not having to take a meal to her. When the football is on we can take a meal to her room, otherwise she comes to the table to have a family meal with us. And yes, we all eat at a table with the TV safely secured in Gran’s room.

Our boys are required to adapt to some of Gran’s requirements too. Some insights.

They are acutely aware that when Gran slips them a treat they are to ask us if it is OK. This is for several reasons. The ‘treat’ could be something they really shouldn’t have or they shouldn’t have right before dinner time. That is, there is a time and a place for such things. It might be a ‘treat’ that has been kicking around the bottom of Grans’ bag for the last couple of months (either wrapped or otherwise) and probably isn’t a good ‘treat’ to have. We really don’t know what Gran gets her hands on when she goes on outings or to Bingo. So, to the boys credit they do come and ask, are more often than not knocked back and a substitute of reputable satiation quickly offered.

Today for instance, Gran had procured a large gingerbread cookies studded with colourful little sweet treats. It was dutifully brought to the kitchen by our eldest son to present Grans offering for inspection to Dad. Rather than breaking into a sweat over the potential for whining and general emotional mayhem I slipped the cookie onto the chopping board and quartered the little sucker handing the boys a quarter each before dinner. They got the rest after dinner.

And tonight, they ate all their dinner.

Back to Gran.

Peace & Quiet: Gran needs quiet time. So do our boys. So does my wife and I. On a regular basis this might be afternoon nap time, though I can see the day this will no longer apply. Disciplined ‘quiet time’ after lunch means Gran gets a nap if she chooses (remember, she’s had a late night and an early wake-up call!) and the boys get a top up of sleep if they need it. It also means I can attend to jobs that are best done without little distractions and Mrs Petit Paradis can do a town run to complete tasks or pick up supplies. Currently, Sundays in our house are a compulsory nap day, ready for the new week.

Risk Management: The boys toys, such as Lego, are fantastic obstacles for Gran to have to negotiate her walker around. This keeps her nimble and on her toes. All good things. At least, this is how I justify a living area that looks like a 90’s Sarajevo picnic. The boys are learning to keep the area tidy, and why the need to.

I regularly think to myself whether this chaos is worth it. Often these thoughts occur to me, really. Especially when carers turn up to check up on Gran and the place is in absolute shambles. Diabolical stuff. Terrible.

Still, we are all enduring this for the time being, that is until we move into the new house and we learn to live together in a place designed for a multi-generational family.

Lego has the capacity to turn up in the most obscure places.


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