Living with Granny
Three generations in one house – such sweet chaos!
Last night I found a jam jar containing a slug (and slug eggs) on my kitchen counter.

You’d imagine that this slug was put there by one of my children – Nic (13), Tom (11) or Chloe (5), but it wasn’t. This slug is one of the many benefits of sharing my house with my mother – a keen gardener. She spends her days working in our garden and it’s amazing what she finds out there to show the kids. So if it’s not a maternal slug, it’s a frog or a baby bird, a dead chameleon (or a live one). She not only mows the lawn (yes, really), and trims the hedge but she also entertains and teaches my children at the same time.

Sharing one’s home with Granny has a wonderful array of benefits, but it takes some getting used to – on both sides. Losing our independence by becoming part owners in a property was as hard for us as it was for her. So why did we do it?

There was a lot to gain. She had a brush with intruders and agreed that a single, elderly woman would be increasingly vulnerable. She has a fantastic relationship with our children and we knew they would benefit from having her input at home. From a financial point of view throwing in our lot together would allow us to buy a bigger property with trees for our children to climb. So, on the spur of the moment we bought a 180-year-old, five-bedroom house with spacious rooms, high ceilings, yellowwood floors and a sunny front veranda.

Friends who have done the sharing-with-your-parents thing warned us to maintain a definite boundary. ‘It’ll work as long as both sides have their private space,’ they said.

They were right. But it’s not that simple. We thought that as co-owner, Granny shouldn’t be allocated a pokey section at the back of the house, so she got the front suite of rooms overlooking the veranda. We got the darker section at the back. In typical Victorian style, a passage runs the length of the house, with our bedrooms off it.

Once we moved in, I felt our section of the house was too permeable. I didn’t like my mother ‘coo-eeeing’ down the passage once I had put Chloe to sleep and I needed to feel in control of my own space. We needed more privacy, so we bashed through a wall to create an en-suite bathroom and went to the demolition yard to buy a door that filled our passage perfectly. Once Check Point Charlie (as my brother put it) was up, we could close the door when we didn’t want to see Granny or her friends, and she could close it when Tom started playing his electric guitar or our house was overrun with visiting children. Chloe lets herself through the door to have breakfast with Granny, which is especially nice for us at weekends when we want a lie-in.

There have been tricky moments on both sides; the key is to address any issues as they arise, but we’ve had to learn how to talk about these things. The bottom line is that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Today, for example, there is the tempting smell of freshly baked banana bread wafting through the house. It is coming from Granny’s kitchen, but I don’t go in because a post-it note on the closed door says, ‘Beware the spitting cobra’. I’m assuming it’s to warn off hungry grandchildren, but perhaps in the light of the slug, I should be cautious and wait and see what Granny has in store for us.

Do you share a home with a grandparent? How does it work for you?

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