The night before I got married, I slept in my childhood home for the last time. I was certain it would be the last time living in my mother's home. I was right, but what I didn't know was, in just over three years, my mother would be moving in with us.
Two-and-a-half years after I married my husband, and eight months after I gave birth to my first daughter, my mother, who was living alone at the time, was diagnosed with breast cancer. There wasn't much discussion around her move into our home. Two of my siblings were living in dorm rooms, and the other lived over an hour away from my mom's hospital and job. It made sense for her to have plenty of company and help during treatment. So, we created a makeshift apartment space for her in our basement and moved her in temporarily.
Now, three years later, we have just begun talk of ending our arrangement. My mom has been in good health for some time now, but mainly because we need more space for our growing family.
There are many things my husband and I have chosen to do as parents that are obviously different from the choices our parents made. This is where things can get awkward.
We receive all kinds of reactions when the topic of multi-generational living is brought up. For the most part, people want to know how we make it work. Honestly, I feel largely unqualified to answer this question because the majority of our experience has been positive. My daughters enjoy having grandma around, and as a working mom, I appreciate the extra help.
Still, our life together as a family of five in a 1,400 square-foot home hasn't been without difficulties. The most noteworthy has been learning to parent while living with your parent. When my mom moved into our home we were brand new parents. While I can honestly report that my mother was a wonderful parent to me and my siblings, there are many things my husband and I have chosen to do as parents that are obviously different from the choices our parents made. This is where things can get awkward.
As a new mother, every day is filled with new lessons and failures, and I can't help but realize my mother is nearby and watching. I often find myself wondering what she thinks about the choices I am making, if she is offended or frustrated because I have chosen parenting practices so markedly different from hers. At times, this makes me nervous and on-edge and this dynamic casts a shadow of self-doubt over many of my parenting decisions.
In our home, navigating this particular aspect of multi-generational living has come down to changing the way I see the woman living in my home. When I see her as my parent, I feel compelled to fall into adolescent patterns of pleasing her and following her rules. But if I see her as a person with her own unique set of opinions, successes and failures, I can divorce our day-to-day interactions from the memory of childhood obligations I am no longer required to fulfill.
If there is an ideal living situation as a 20-something mom of two, I am not sure living with my mother is it. But here is what I am sure of: simply because something isn't easy doesn't mean it isn't good.
For our family, multi-generational living has become more than something to survive with for a short period of time. Instead, the perks and discomforts of having an extra adult in our home has become a unique opportunity for personal growth. For me, our time together has been a gentle push into a more confident awareness of who I am. And it has meant learning to honor the woman who is a mother to me, while honoring the mother I am meant to be.