When Grandparents, Parents, and Kids are All Under One Roof

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown families into situations they couldn’t have imagined mere months ago.

For a variety of reasons, many sandwich generation families are hunkered down together with their young kids and aging parents during the pandemic — a situation that can be challenging, but unexpectedly joyful, too.

The benefits of multi-generational living

Ruth Kogen Goodwin, her husband, and 7-year-old daughter reside in California. Goodwin moved in with her in-laws shortly before the pandemic due to construction on their house.

“We moved in with my in-laws just for the duration of the project (about 5 months). Our permanent home is located less than a mile from my own parents and just over a mile from my in-laws. Our siblings all live further from both of them, so we are the primary caregivers for both sets of parents if they need anything,” Goodwin explains.

Both sets of grandparents are retired, capable, and independent. Goodwin shares, “They have busy schedules in normal times. Usually, they all help us with childcare for our daughter throughout the week.”

Living under one roof during the pandemic has been a positive. Goodwin says, “We shop together and for each other… each of us goes out in public less than we would if we were on our own. My in-laws are helping with childcare while I work.”

“If not for them, I would have to fit work in between supervising virtual school during the day and after bedtime and on weekends,” she says.

Goodwin adds there are other benefits, like having adults to talk to and interact with during this time of physical distancing, as well as help managing chores.

“We share chores like cooking and laundry, entertain each other, and bounce ideas off of each other,” she says. “We trade off taking my daughter for walks in the neighborhood, car rides, and bike rides to get her out of the house and give those left at home some quiet time.”

“If we weren’t living with my in-laws already, we’d probably be social distancing from them too, making work, shopping for supplies, and life in general so much more difficult. So, I feel lucky to be in this situation,” she adds.

New challenges to consider

One of the stressors right now for Goodwin and other adults with aging parents is the physical distancing necessary to reduce exposure to COVID-19.

It’s hard not to see her own parents during the pandemic. “Basically, we have gone from seeing each other several times a week to none at all,” Goodwin shares.

“That means that half of our normal childcare is gone, and we are all missing each other like crazy. That said, we’re still trying to support each other as much as we can. We’re running some errands for them, dropping off groceries and grandchild artwork to keep their spirits up, and video chatting several times per week,” she says. “But it is, of course, not what we are used to, and that is hard.”

Although many have found positivity during this challenging time, there are many others who are feeling more stress and strain than ever.

Families are struggling with reduced childcare options and job losses, and the issue of separation from loved ones persists for those not sharing a home together.

Sara Guthrie lives in Georgia with her husband, three kids, ages 15, 11, and 2, and her 64-year-old mother. They live in a home they all bought together to help with the cost of living in a college town.

Guthrie shares that even if her mom lived separately from them, they’d be sheltering together during the pandemic — especially because of her mom’s age and medical conditions.

The challenges for Guthrie and her family during the pandemic have primarily been financial.

“Typically my mom would work a few days a week outside the home and my husband and I would both work full-time outside of the home. The girls would go to school and my son would go to daycare. After the lockdown, my mom lost her job within the first week,” she says.

Guthrie’s husband worked an extra restaurant job which hasn’t been possible during the pandemic. Guthrie’s mom is trying to obtain unemployment.

“[We went] from having six people who normally eat 1-2 meals outside of the home every day during the week to trying to feed six people three meals a day.” Guthrie says the increase in meals at home continues to be a big financial strain.

Despite financial struggles, Guthrie feels the silver lining is the time spent together. Many families hunkered down with multiple generations feel the same way.

Mental health benefits often outweigh the challenges

Hannah Grieco, her husband, and three children ages 7, 10, and 12 live in Virginia. Two years ago, Grieco’s parents, both in their 70s, moved in with her family, which has been a positive experience. “We’re our own little village, and I’ve always been grateful for that but especially now.”

As with many families facing the pandemic, Grieco says new concerns have arisen.

“My mom is particularly at-risk because she has both diabetes and asthma,” says Grieco. “My husband and I have been doing all of the grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking.”

Grieco says that despite health concerns, the experience of living under one roof with multi-generations has brought unexpected blessings.

“I have an autistic child and it’s such a great thing to have a larger family to be home bound with. He doesn’t enjoy connecting with friends virtually, so I was worried he’d sink into himself. But being with my parents has been a blessing for him and all of us!” she explains.

Also, living together has allowed Grieco and her husband to continue working.

“My parents play games with the kids, hang out with them, and have a big family dinner with us every night,” says Grieco. “They are just an integral part of our lives, truly members of our immediate family.”

He said how critical it is to reach out in whatever safe ways we can during this time of distancing to let those in our lives know that, “though perhaps physically isolated, they remain embedded in a web of care and concern.”

Dr. Galea goes on to say, “Our health, both physical and mental, is linked. When trauma strikes a society, it does not just strike a group of individuals who happen to live in the same place. It exposes how connected we are and want to be. It is compassion and simply looking out for each other that will support health — physical and mental — in the days to come.”

6 strategies to move forward

This is a marathon, not a sprint, and some extra precaution can go a long way to keep the unique needs of your multi-generational family protected.

As states begin to ease restrictions, these 6 tips will help keep you, your kids, and your parents safe.

1. Shop solo

As much as we may want to go shopping as a family or a couple, many stores are recommending that shopping for necessities like food and medications continue to be a solo endeavor.

Shopping with others increases risk. For those over age 65, it’s best to stay home and let a younger family member handle the shopping.

2. Weigh the cost and benefit of each activity

Whether it’s venturing to a hair salon or riding bikes with friends, you need to weigh the cost/benefit of each activity or outing and ask:

  • Is this completely necessary?
  • Is this a want or a need?
  • How will this impact my family, especially my older parents?

3. Keep talking

Mental and emotional care is just as important as physical care. Make sure you’re having regular family meetings with your kids and parents to keep communication flowing.

Stress remains high for every age right now, so talking it out and being open with feelings is key.

Share with each other what’s working and what’s not to ease potential friction moving forward.

4. Find safe and alternative ways to get out

Because you’re sharing a home with kids and aging parents, you still want to remain vigilant and safe.

As parks, beaches, and other public spaces are opening up, you may not want to rush out just yet. Find ways to get fresh air but in a safe way.

Take walks early or later when the masses aren’t out. Brainstorm with your family about safe activities that you all can enjoy while maintaining physical distancing.

5. Always wear a mask

No matter what state you’re in, this is a key component to help curb the spread of illness. If you have a cloth mask, wash after each use in public and air dry.

6. Carefully vet play dates

Young children in particular are starving for interaction with their friends. But don’t let a desire to connect sideline common sense.

Many families are choosing one family to enter into quarantine play dates with. Ask questions and make sure they’re following the same guidelines you are before you interact on any level. Being honest could save lives — especially with grandparents living in the home.

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