Jane Graham, 68, has a talent for caring for others. A pediatric nurse, she’s made a profession of it. But in her personal life she has also cared for many, including her husband for three years before he passed on from early-onset fronto-temporal dementia. Then she moved in with her parents in Virginia for three years to help care for her father, who had a fractured hip. When her father passed on at age 95, she wanted to return to Colorado where most of her children and grandchildren lived. Her son, Arick, 41, and daughter-in-law, Rachel, 37, had kept her belongings in storage and offered that she could stay with them.
She took them up on it. “I felt like it was a temporary thing,” says Jane. The couple had three children ages 3, 4 and 7. But as it turned out, they had recently become licensed for foster care and got their first placement about 6 months after Jane moved in. “And it was not one child, but two babies. And they were 9-months and 19-months-old,” she says. “And at that point, it seemed like it would be more helpful to them for me to stay.” So, she stayed to help with the babies.
Now the children are ages 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12. It’s a very active household. Jane is a big help. “I spend a lot of my time helping with housework, watching children, driving a carpool to do piano lessons,” she says. “I take the little one to preschool in the mornings and go pick her up at 11 o’clock.” Jane says she feels like this is where she is needed right now. “I feel like this is where God wants me, and certainly my son and daughter-in-law welcome the help. And we all seem to get along just fine.”
An outdoor person, Jane likes to get out on her own. But she also takes her grandchildren on bike rides, hiking, camping, and sledding. Because she spends so much time with these grandchildren, she is especially close to them, although she adores all of her grandchildren.
The family has an agreement that she is not required to do anything, and Jane feels very appreciated for her contributions. “I offer to help with dishes. I do a lot of laundry. I offer to babysit the children. But Arick and Rachel are very respectful of my time, and they don’t assume anything.” Jane thinks being there helps her son and daughter-in-law emotionally and mentally because there is relief for them. “There is an extra set of hands during the day to help,” she adds.
As she thinks about the future, Jane says she will see how it unfolds. Living alone isn’t attractive to her, “I came from a large family. There were 7 of us children and we were all close in age so I’m used to a busy household,” she comments. “I look at some of my friends who are also single and living alone. And I can see that most of them really like that. But I think I would be terribly lonely.”
Jane’s advice to people considering a multigenerational household? “First and foremost, have a really good understanding with your whole family about what the expectations are,” she says. “You need to be flexible.” She urges strong communication and lots of love. “It has worked out well and I’m happy that I’m here,” she adds.
Read the full report and other family stories at Family Matters: Multigenerational Living Is on the Rise and Here to Stay.