Do I have snow madness or is this a good idea?
February 9, 2012 8:38 AM   Subscribe

We are exploring moving in with my mother for six months over next winter. She has a very large home where the daylight basement functions as its own living space -- second washer/dryer, kitchenette, bathroom, bedrooms etc. What questions should we be asking? Have you ever done this? How did it go?

Our goals: save a little money, allow grandma to spend quality time with our daughter (she'll be 2) and vice versa, help grandma through the winter (this would be her first winter at the house alone, it's in the mountains), enjoy a ski season and have a little extra family time all around. I am hoping that grandma will help with childcare both so I can do some work and so that husband and I can have some time out.

We've got so many details to sort out to even make this kind of viable that I'm having trouble thinking about when we are living there!

So, if you've done this -- how did it go? Would you do it again? What questions do we need to be asking? Any advice for how to make things go smoothly?

Bonus question: what do I need to know about having grandma help out with childcare?
posted by amanda to Human Relations (13 answers total)
I had a former boyfriend live with his grandmother in a similar situation. The biggest thing that I wish he would've done to cut down on the resulting tension would be to draw up some documents outlining the expectations that you have with regards to renting, relative or not.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say the basement functions as its own living space. Does this include a TV room/play area for your daughter, or will you be spending a significant amount of time upstairs in your mother's living space?

The biggest thing I would address prior to starting this arrangement is behavioral expectations. Is it OK for you/husband/daughter to go upstairs unannounced? It is OK for grandma to come downstairs unannounced?

Also, as it seems to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, ground rules should be set so people don't feel taken advantage of (i.e. of course grandma has to babysit Friday night despite making plans of her own, because we shoveled the snow off the sidewalks and driveway twice this week!). This could mean something as large and complex as setting up a list or schedule of things done by each party for the other, or could be as simple as everyone agreeing not to be upset if one person says No to doing a favor.
posted by trivia genius at 8:49 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We would all be allowed fairly free reign of the house. But, there is plenty of playspace in the basement for our daughter. We could easily stay down then for several days if we wanted. However, there is a media room (big TV, couches) and exercise room in the basement which is for everyone. And the kitchen upstairs is marvelous and we'd also like to cook for grandma a couple times a week.
posted by amanda at 8:56 AM on February 9, 2012

Is there a definate move-out date? My sister has moved back to my parents several times with her children in tow and the lack of an end date (or an end date that is ignored) added to the tension. However my sister, although I love her, is quite difficult to live with and her children are significantly older than yours, thus creating the tension.
posted by saucysault at 9:00 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your mother know you hope she'll help with childcare? And what, exactly, does that mean? Remember that most grandparents, much as they love their grandchildren, don't necessarily want to return to parenthood. They've been there, done that. A two-year-old is exhausting. Maybe your mother loves this idea and everything will be great. Maybe she'll realize later on that hey, maybe this is not really what she bargained for. Be careful.

How does your husband get along with your grandmother? Do they like each other? Genuinely? Can they handle being at close quarters for six months? It's your old house, but it's not his, after all, and it can be unexpectedly hard for spouses to deal with having the parent-child relationship suddenly kick in in a situation like this. And who's buying groceries, paying rent, utility bills, etc?

I agree with trivia genius that it's important to set out rules and expectations ahead of time, and when unanticipated issues come up (and they will) you need to be able to handle them like adults instead of getting defensive and shutting down. (Trust me. I've observed this kind of situation closely in the past. It seems ideal at first, but you really have to know what you're doing.)

It does help that it's a finite amount of time, kind of an extended visit. I don't want to be a downer; I really hope it works out well and that you all enjoy it and each other.
posted by tully_monster at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you on the same page with your mom with regard to parenting issues? Because that is the biggest source of tension in our house right now (Short Story is 8.5mos). We are constantly dealing with nagging and second-guessing of our parenting decisions. For the most part we have to suck it up and be as polite as possible to grandma (my hubby's mom) because we really do need her help with childcare, but it causes a lot of tension and behind-closed-doors arguments in the marriage. I think a major flaw in our plan early on was that we never discussed our expectations of how we would raise our child; we took for granted that she would just go with the decisions we made (lol - Rookies!), she took for granted that we would do things the way she was used to without question. So having a few discussions with regard to those expectations is important.
posted by vignettist at 9:09 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would agree with the people above who suggest being on the same page about parenting and childcare. She might love to spend more time with your daughter, but with you and your husband there as well. You might be thinking you guys can step out without much notice, or assume she'll supervise while you jump in the shower. You should just talk and get on the same page early on. Definitely don't assume that Grandma spending time with your daughter = solo Grandma childcare. Just like anything else in life, communication is critical!
posted by handful of rain at 9:19 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

It can work as long as you guys talk. After my father died my mother moved in with me, I was single at the time and it took a lot for me to go from thinking of it as "my" house to thinking of it as "our" house. What helped was having clear lines on what was expected in the way of privacy. We each had our own rooms and we had communal space. Do you like the same sorts of things, have similar temperaments, mind helping your mother out, I had no problem with all of that and lived together for 3 years, I now miss having her live with me and we became really close and got to know each other as adults.

She also lived with my brother and SIL and their 2 kids for 3 months, it was a nightmare of passive aggressive craziness that ended up with my mother hospitalized because she'd stopped eating because she was too scared to go into the kitchen when my SIL was home.

The main problem there was my SIL had a very strong busy personality and tended to take over and didn't make my mother feel she had any space and my SIL wouldn't talk about problems but instead insisted on whispering to my brother and making my brother fix everything. The lack of communication made everything horrible for everyone concerned. Talk, talk, talk and then talk some more, if you can't talk about things with your mother or your husband wouldn't feel comfortable bringing up issues directly with her, or her with him, then don't do it. If you all get along and can talk and laugh about the screw ups together then it can be fine, and a great way to draw everyone closer together.
posted by wwax at 9:25 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Financial expectations. What happens when the oven/water heater/couch breaks in "your part" of the house? Who buys the groceries used to cook for a grandma a few times a week? Who pays the utilities? The guy who comes to hack up the tree that fell onto the roof?

Childcare arrangements. What kind of quiet time does grandma prefer? You'll be downstairs, so the pitter patter of little feet coming down through the ceiling won't be a big deal. But 2 year olds. You can hear them. Feeding the child? What is off limits? Timing? Do we eat just one bite, or do we get to refuse anything? Other discipline issues? Spell this out in advance, do not just assume that grandma would never dream of smacking a child (or whatever crosses your boundaries). Television for the little one. No? Yes? How much? What kind?

Is there a pet in the picture? Who will care for it?

Sure, some of the things we're mentioning ma seem absurd now, but they'll seem even more strange when everybody has a different idea of how it should be handled.

Have an end date in mind, yes absolutely. But also have a weekend in there somewhere that is scheduled for you and husband to take daughter away for a few days and give grandma her house back for some truly quiet time. Look into the town nearest to grandma for childcare options, so that you can present them to grandma - hey, little one and I can go into town on Tuesdays, I'll be dropping her off for ___some toddler oriented non-parental things____ and I'll be at the ___coffee shop___ working on my __widget design__. IF she genuinely pushes back and says she'd prefer to keep kiddo at home with her while you work, then find an appropriate way to show your appreciation. If she says "leave kiddo with me" but you aren't sure if she means that or not? She likely doesn't mean it. Proceed with extreme caution if any party is making promises or assertions that seem too good to be true, or out of character for that person. That way lies resentment. (Yes, it's true that past performance does not guarantee future's a really strong indicator.)
posted by bilabial at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lots of good tips above. I didn't catch whether you want to work from home or at a job. If you're hoping to work from home and have Grandma watch your child (and Grandma is okay with that), make sure Grandma understands that this is real work. In my own experience and that of other WAHMs, many grandparents do not understand what it means to work from home. They may let your child run along beside you. Or they or the child may come talk to you when you're on the phone. Or they may not see you as working -- "you're just playing at the computer" or "You're just surfing". Or "Well, I used to manage Girl Scout meetings when the kids were home or "I made all sorts of PTA calls with the kids around". This becomes more complicated if the grandparent has never worked for pay or if they don't believe mothers should work. Also, some grandparents don't believe parents deserve breaks. Just fyi, as YMMV.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:34 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a comment from my limited experience. You say you will have living quarters which are pretty self-sufficient. Beware of having too LITTLE interaction with mom/grandmom. It can get to the point where it feels you have just rented space (with or without paying or receiving rent) but have not done much life-blending. Too much or too little, like most things, can be upsetting.
posted by uncaken at 9:53 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

if you (and everyone who is considering moving) like your parents, have good communication with her, then great.

when i moved my family into my parents' big house to help care for my grandmother, we weren't on great terms with them, but assumed it would be fine since the entire upstairs would be ours. they found ways to eavesdrop by coming up to our floor several times a day, and they found ways to make enough noise downstairs so we couldn't sleep or study.

they were bored and nosey, and since we were the new toy in the house, they kept trying to interfere with our lives, 'fix' the stuff we did 'wrong,' and tell us what we should be doing with our time, etc, etc.

i mention this because you said the basement would be like a totally separate living space. don't assume anything.

since you have a set timeframe of 6 months, you could just go for it, and tough it out if it sucks, because it's only a few months.

the best part for us was spending time with my grandma. she got to know my son better, ii got to make sure she was okay all the time, and although it was hell to live there, those were the best moments i ever had with my grandma right before she died. and now i don't speak to my parents. so there are many variables you need to weigh carefully. make hypothetical scenarios and play them out. again: don't assume anything.

good luck!
posted by carielewyn at 7:32 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all -- there are some really good questions here! And you've brought up a few issues that I really had not thought about. Having an open conversation about parenting styles is one of them. And thinking about how my husband would be able to voice his boundaries with her.

She's actually pretty good about boundaries. At least, she has been. I think the hardest part for us will be maintaining the house. My husband says he's up for it but I think we'll try to make a list of all the stuff that needs doing. I'll enlist my brothers in that list as they know better than I.

Thanks again!
posted by amanda at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2012

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