I grew up in a multigenerational home. My parents, brother and I shared our home with my grandmother for several years when I was quite young. When she moved into her own apartment when I was six years old, we still visited her weekly, heard from her daily, and visited other elderly members of our family on a regular basis. My dad came from a large family. His mother was one of 7 kids. They all lived well into their 80’s or 90’s, and my great-grandmother was in my life until she passed away during my freshman year of college at age 100. My brother and I grew up surrounded by family from multiple generations.
My family life was in stark contrast to my husband’s upbringing. He was an only child, with no extended family. He didn’t grow up with cousins, or aunts and uncles, and his grandparents were no longer there. His contact with multiple generations was limited.
By the time we were married and had two toddlers at home, my grandmother moved from an assisted living community to a nursing home at the end of our road. Our daughters had been coming with us to visit my grandmother since they were infants. They ran around the assisted living community, would have lunch in the dining room with the other residents, and waved to all of my grandmother’s friends. When she transitioned to the nursing home, the girls would feed the birds in the courtyard, sing songs with the residents around the piano, and delivered cookies to every person in the building at Christmas.
I took their comfort for granted. I was brought up having meaningful and personal connections with people of all ages. Our daughters were too. Being around people in these end stages of life was not always as comfortable for my husband. It was not comfortable for the families of many of the men and women whom we met. More often than not, our daughters were the only small children present.
Being raised in a multigenerational community has allowed my daughters and I to feel comfortable communicating with and relating to people of all ages. We have learned that people of all ages, young, old, and in between, have much to share. In our Church community, I see my kids laugh with their peers, speak freely with elders whom they greet by name, and look up to the youth and young adults.
Being exposed to and engaged in multigenerational community, either through family life or congregational life, helps to expand comfort zones, allowing for people to be seen more often as individuals, and less often as simply a member of a particular generation or age.