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Moving In with the Grandchildren:
How To Make It Work

QUESTION: I have a good relationship with my three grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law. They have asked that I move in with them, which seems like a "win-win" situation for all of us. But I have some concern about the possible pitfalls, since living with them will be a different story. Can you offer feedback about how best to make this situation work?

ANSWER: Congratulations. What a wonderful invitation AND vote of confidence by your family! Still, you are a wise grandmother to be concerned about the potential for snags, which are inevitable in any intimate living situation. Let's take a look at how you can prepare the way so that you maximize success in this worthy endeavor.

  1. Clarify expectations and roles.
    Identify what your needs will be in the new living situation. How much privacy do you need, and how will you obtain it when necessary? No doubt you will want to interact with your grandchildren and take on appropriate responsibilities that suit both your needs and theirs. Communicating expectations and concerns about privacy and responsibilities of family members ahead of time will pave the way for successful interactions when tensions do arise. But do not stop there!

  2. Identify a method to address uncomfortable feelings.
    Tensions and misunderstandings should be expected and handled as a normal part of family life, rather than labeled as problematic. Be sure to acknowledge that unforeseen issues will undoubtedly come up, and identify a means of talking through uncomfortable feelings. Some families find they can communicate spontaneously as members' needs require it, while others prefer to establish a weekly (or monthly) family meeting to assess how family members are handling the transition to a new living situation. Such a "meeting" could be an informal lunch between you and your daughter-in-law and/or son. Or it could be a forum for all members, if this style suits your family.

  3. Have a trial period to assess the viability of the new living arrangement.
    This is a good stop-gap for avoiding disaster if personalities and needs just do not blend. That way, if things do not work well, you can return to your old form of relating without permanent damage.

  4. Maintain a boundary between grandparenting and parenting.
    It is likely that you are being asked to live with your family because they love having access to you and find you generous of spirit and accepting in a way that only a grandparent can be. This may be largely due to the fact that you do not have to take on the role of discipline for your grandchildren, for example, or set limits or make judgments that parents must make. Do not spoil this situation by taking on parental responsibilities. Protect your grandparent role by stating clearly that you do not want to slip into a parenting role. Together, you can keep these boundaries intact by making agreements to sidestep any child's attempt to put you in the middle.

    Maintaining these boundaries is more important when living in the family, as children may be likely to seek you out for support. It is both your job and the parents' job to deflect the parental authority back to where it belongs. If the parents ask you for your advice about a parenting decision, this is a different matter. But giving unsolicited input will likely cause difficulties in an already tense family dynamic. Talk with your son and his wife about this possible pitfall. Doing so will allow you to create agreements to prevent unnecessary conflict.

  5. Maintain a separate living area.
    If at all possible, enjoy a space that is close, but separate enough that when you wish, you can retreat, close your door, and have your needs for privacy respected. This is the reason "in-law" units (separate apartments within the same house, or a separate cottage on the same property) are named in this way. Others have recognized the need for a close but separate space for grandparents as beneficial to family harmony! By all means, enjoy the rich advantages of moving in with your grandchildren, by anticipating rather than ignoring the pitfalls. As one grandmother to another, I salute your wisdom!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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