These days it is not unusual at all that one finds more and more families who now have three generations under one roof. Retirement villages are exorbitantly expensive and old age homes cannot always accommodate everyone.
In the more affluent sections of our community, granny is lucky to get her own flat attached to the house. In most cases, though, she becomes a member of your household, often moving into the spare room, and sometimes having to share with a member of your family.
The adjustment is difficult for everyone.
There is a big difference between visiting Granny in for the winter holidays and living with her. She is also used to having her own space and has probably forgotten how noisy and busy a house can be where there are three children under the age of ten.
Things to remember
- Allow for a period of adjustment. Don’t jump in there with a list of rules as her last possessions are carried from the removal van. Everyone needs to feel their way around for the first week or two. Remember that she is out of her normal environment and is probably missing her friends and feeling insecure.
- Don’t take things too personally. She is out of her own depth and if she asks for a clean towel, that might be all she wants. Don’t read criticism into it.
- Don’t treat her like an unpaid servant, but remember you are not one either. Be open and honest about household chores. Ask her if she would like to assume responsibility for any department, such as packing school lunches, supervising homework or cooking occasionally. It is important to remember that she needs to feel part of the household, without taking on a fulltime cooking and cleaning job.
- Don’t let old resentments eat you up. If there are problems from the past, don’t let them fester. Either deal with them or detach from them completely. Don’t expect miracles. If she has problems that have been coming along for 70 years, you are not going to solve them in a weekend.
- Do things your way. Make it clear that you run your household your way, whether right or wrong in her eyes. Don’t let the kitchen become a battleground. Admit you are not perfect, but that things work for you in this way and stick to them.
- Agree on certain areas of responsibility.In this way things don’t have to constantly negotiated. If she knows exactly how the household functions and why, everything will not be seen as a possible area of conflict.
- Don't compete with her.If she is your mother-in-law, don’t compete with her for your husband’s attention. The last thing he wants to be at the end of a hard working day is an adjudicator. If you constantly complain about her, he will choose his mother’s side. If, however, you keep quiet and she complains about you constantly, he will choose your side. If she is difficult, he knows it even better than you do. Remember he lived with her for at least 18 years longer than you have. Don’t see this living arrangement as a competition from which a winner and a loser will emerge. If you fight constantly, there will be losers only.
- Get into a routine. Get her to babysit every Friday night, so that you and your husband can spend some time alone. In return, offer to drive her to her bridge club or take her shopping on a regular basis.
- Encourage her to make friends.It is also a good idea to get her involved with charity work. Remember, she feels out of her depth and probably quite redundant. Being needed by other people might very well give her a reason to be a lot more content. Busy people don’t have time to whinge.
- Insist on having a social life of your own as well. Don’t neglect friendships and don’t feel bad going to have coffee with your friend Sally like you used to every Friday morning.
- Get the children to be more considerate. Yes, she has moved into their home, but it can do no harm for them to get tuned in to the needs of other people at a young age. They must learn to pick up their toys and be quiet when she is taking her Sunday afternoon nap.
- Do not accept full responsibility for her wellbeing. Make her take responsibility for herself as well. Make it clear that you love her, but cannot be a fulltime entertainer as you have many other responsibilities.
- Give I-messages when discussing any problems. Say “I have a problem” rather than “It drives me crazy when you…”. If you can create an atmosphere of joint problem-solving rather than ‘you vs. her’, half the battle is won.
- Take a break from each other. Encourage her to visit her other children for a week or two. It will give you time alone together as well as a family.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2006)