Is it Possible to Live Too Close to Your Grandkids?
Some things just stick with you. A little over thirty years ago, I was a single mom with two preschool-age children when the house across the street from my parents came on the market. I wanted to buy the small, cute house. It was in my price range, but best of all was the location, right by my kids’ school and across the street from my parents. When I mentioned it to my mother, she immediately vetoed the idea, saying it was too close for her comfort. It still stings over thirty years later and leaves me wondering, how close is too close to live by your grandchildren?
My mom’s reaction to me buying the house across the street hurt my feelings, yet in hindsight, I understand her opposition. My kids and I were a lot, too much to expect my mom to be in constant availability mode. My mom had raised four kids, one with disabilities, and she had eight grandchildren. She was ready to be free of caregiving responsibilities. I couldn’t understand it then because I was in the thick of parenting. My vision was clouded by an impenetrable haze of neediness and an aching loneliness from being the only adult in my home. (Gee, who wouldn’t have wanted to live right by that tons-of-fun person?!)
I’m now the same age my mom was when I wanted to be her neighbor, and I understand better how aging takes some of the energy out of a person. Our priorities change as we get older, the sands of time seem to speed up, and we realize there is a limit to our resources. But there are significant differences between my mom and me. I only had two kids, and I will probably only have two grandkids, so my time and energy are not as divided. I have no desire to be a full-time babysitter, but I love the hour or two here and there that I get to see my grandkids.
Living across the street was too close for my mom, but the two blocks between my house and our grandkids’ house is perfect. We’ve been in our new home for two months now, and it seems the ideal distance. We’re back and forth to one another’s houses all the time, but we’re far enough to mind our own business. We’re close enough that we can easily walk to each other’s houses if we need to borrow a cup of sugar or if the grandkids forget a beloved stuffed animal on sleepover nights. However, we’re far enough away that the kids still need adult supervision (for now) to walk over.
We weren’t that far away before, but the distance required a car ride. The difference seems significant. There are lots of accidental meetings and spur-of-the-moment get-togethers. One day last week, I was in my kitchen doing dishes when I looked out the window, and I saw my daughter walking down my street with her dogs. It was one of those moments when I marveled at how lucky I am to live so close.
I’ve had several friends who have moved across the country to live close to their grandkids. Six years ago, I would have thought that was just crazy stuff, but now it seems perfectly logical. I have warned my daughter that I am now a creepy stalker-type grandparent that will follow them wherever they go. Fortunately, she knows I’m joking (wink-wink) and says she loves having us as an integral part of their lives (translation: free babysitting).
There are some cultures where it is considered the norm for several generations to live together, and I wonder if we’re missing something by not embracing that lifestyle. Raising young children is stressful, and family support benefits all generations. I remember how lonely it sometimes felt to be a single parent. It would have been so nice for me and my kids to have had the company and support of extended family. As my parents aged and the tables of caregiving were turned, it would have been equally beneficial to have been right there to assist them.
As much as I idealize the thought of multigenerational living, I’m realistic to know my introverted self requires peace, alone time, and my own bathroom! Living close but not together is the compromise that works for us. The years of having young grandchildren are fleeting. I already see the changes in our five-year-old grandson. His best friend lives across the street from us, and when my grandson comes over, he is more excited to hang out with the friend than to be with us. That’s normal and healthy. His little sister is two and a half and is in that sweet spot of thinking her grandparents are pretty cool. When her mom gave her a choice of what she wanted to do one day, Sylvia’s first choice was “Grandmom’s house!” I felt honored. Both grandkids will eventually have their own lives full of friends and activities, and that’s exactly how it should be, but if they keep popping in to say hello, I will be happy. I’ll be even happier if they occasionally mow my lawn!
How close is too close to live by your kids and grandkids? There are so many variables that there can’t possibly be one answer to that question. My mom was right to communicate her opinion honestly. What works for one family may not work for another, and having that honest, open communication is essential before the closing papers are signed! I love being neighbors to our grandkids, and I hope their parents feel the same!