When I was five, my parents made a fateful decision. They invited my widowed great-aunt to live with us.
My mother's parents had both died by the time she was twelve. She was adopted by her Aunt Lillian and Uncle George, who lived in a large Newark, New Jersey brownstone with Lillian's parents. A three-generation household came into being.
By the time my mom and dad were married, her grandparents and Uncle George had passed away. When my father was transferred to Dallas, mom and dad felt anxious that Aunt Lil would be alone in Newark. So began our 17-year stint as our own three-generation family.
The situation had its ups and downs. Lil had a bedroom of her own, but that was her only private space, which was probably difficult for her. Childless herself, she seemed to compete with my mom for the title of family matriarch. Reminiscing years later, my mom said that was the most challenging aspect of the arrangement.
From a child's perspective, three generations living under one roof seemed normal. It drilled into me the value of "we take care of our own." While the whole family pitched in, my mother was the primary caregiver all the way to the point where Aunt Lil was bed-ridden. It wasn't until Lil acquired bedsores that my parents arranged for a skilled nursing home. Ironically, the day before she was to move in, she died.
This experience drove home for me the sometimes complicated nature of a multigenerational household. While we gained much as a family, it was also stressful. Therefore, families must carefully consider the implications of older parents moving in with their adult children.