The family car was packed to the brim. 3 kids, 2 adults, and all the belongings we could stuff in what little space remained. I sat between my sister and my brother in his car seat and twisted myself around enough to look out of the back window. My heart felt heavy as I watched our childhood home shrink from view.
Not only were we leaving the only home I could remember, the comfort of our neighborhood, the backyard with the grapevines, and my best friends who lived down the street; but the home still held half of our household. It would be the first time I could remember that we would live with only our nuclear family.
My father was following a job opportunity which our young family needed so off we went on the long drive down the East Coast of the United States from Massachusetts to Georgia.
Georgia (a story of its own) ultimately wasn’t meant to be and we made the move back up to Massachusetts not long after we left. When we came back we planned to live in a new home and resume co-habitation with our grand-parents and uncle. When we first came to the place where the home was to be built it was merely a patch of woods. My parents and grandparents moved forward with their plans and had a factory-built duplex ranch put on a new foundation.
Considering the long list of people who were to live there they decided early on to finish the basements. Before there were rooms and bathrooms my siblings and I would roller-skate on the cement floor and swing around the support beams. The renovations were a family effort. We called on uncles skilled in plumbing, carpentry, electricity, and mechanics. I listened in with interest while my mom, grandmother and aunt discussed interior design.
The end result was lots of rooms for lots of people. This proved useful in the drastic shifting and changing in occupancy that would occur in the years to come. Rooms have been converted time and time again to be bedrooms, dens, offices and nurseries. An addition was added to the back porch about 10 years ago which created a dining room or sun room. We use ours as a bedroom with a view for our preteen. The house continued to evolve into its current state as housing four apartments.
This is far from a new way of living. Innumerable cultures worldwide today and throughout history have enjoyed the benefits of living under one roof as an extended family. For many modern cultures an extended family unit is still the standard–Middle Eastern, Latin American and Asian cultures just to name a few. In New Testament times it was common for households to include the nuclear family as well as aunts and uncles, grandparents and other family members. In the united states multi-generational living was common in the Depression era and saw a resurgence after the Recession of 2008.
With my grandparents here, the house is the hub of our maternal side. My mother is one of six children which means for us lots of aunts, uncles and cousins! This dwelling has hosted countless joyful and boisterous holidays, birthday parties, and special occasions. It’s not unusual to see anyone coming and going on any given day. The floors have held many new crawlers and first steps. There has been break ups, make ups, even a proposal or two! The roof has covered celebrations and mourning, arguments and laughing fits, spotless rooms and disaster areas, all of the things that families are, this house has stood to see.
Over 20 years so many people have called this place home. From immediate and extended family, to our wayward friends that my mother took in. As my siblings and I grew up, moved out and started our own families, each of us has rented here, relocated and sometimes moved back again!
My own nuclear family lived here while my oldest daughter was younger and we moved out for over 5 years renting small houses in town. We returned about a year ago when my grandmother’s health faltered and everyone is happy that I am right next door to check in. I even officially became her personal care attendant. Before I returned half of the residence was being rented to “real tenants” (ie. People outside of friends and family. Oh my!) Currently there are 11-13 people living in the house as a whole (both sides of the duplex). My family, my brother’s family, my grandparents, and my husband’s best friend.
Pros and Cons-
Naturally there is some give and take in this way of living. Sometimes clashing ages, stages, and lifestyles can be an issue. We’ve found that having a separate floor and entrance for each apartment helps. That way you don’t need to tip toe through someone’s living room if you’re out late and don’t feel like someone’s keeping track of your coming and going. Some tiffs still occur over storage and yard work but, there’s always someone to ask for help with moving dressers or hanging curtains.
We say what you save in finances you pay for in headaches but the support we offer one another is priceless. My kids see their great-grandparents on a daily basis. Their cousin lives on the other side of the house with my brother. Because we’re all here my sister and my other nephew come by multiple times a week. That is special!
Living in close proximity to extended family in this way instills a sense of shared responsibility and duty to help each other out. The empathy, accountability, and service that goes along with contributing to a large household are values which I want to instill in my children.
If you find yourself exasperated by a similar living situation, by all means look to move out but in the interim consider yourself lucky! Some don’t have supportive families to speak of. Though it can be annoying at times, this is actually a desirable way of life for many people. Lots of people due to geographic and socioeconomic factors don’t see extended family members for many years.
Many adult children settle their own families close to where they grew up to enjoy some of these financial and emotional benefits but maintain separate properties. This is likely the route my family will take in the future but we are making the most of this lovely season of our lives in my childhood home.
With my mother (the owner) living elsewhere my husband and I have taken on the role as “Mom and Dad” of the house. We bounce babies, get kids off of the bus, help out my grandparents and tend to the yard and the seasonal decor.
We’re doing the best we can to create wonderful memories here. We want to keep this home a place of hospitality. An inviting and comfortable atmosphere for everyone to gather. A place we all share no matter who lives here at the time. A place we can be proud of. A place that we all call home. We want to preserve and pass down a legacy of love, life, forgiveness, and most of all family.
There’s No Place Like Home-
Though the house sits on a fairly busy road the back yard is a charming little forest oasis. With so many people come and gone through the years many have left their mark. Be it an abandoned fort, a fire pit or a tree planted in memory of a loved one.
Its not a sprawling estate and our family hasn’t been on the land for hundreds of years. Yet this place though humble, is our sacred slice of heaven. The walls are saturated in prayer, the doors swing open in salutations, the trees hold laughter, every inch of the yard has been walked over and over again. It’s the woodsy background to our everyday where owls hoot and squirrels frolic.
It seems so simple and normal to us now, but the stories and memories of this place will be passed down through the generations. These are the small beginnings of a new chapter in our history.
Over time the yard and our family have flourished. The tendrils of our lives unfurling, laying fresh roots and sprouting new life in all directions. I hope that the current of the love shared here continues to extend far and wide. That it will transcend time by being carried in the hearts of all who have been nurtured and welcomed here.
Have you ever lived in a household which included extended family members? Would you ever consider living this way? Tell me about your experience in the comments!