Seattle's Child

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One roof, three generations

The unexpected joys of living with grandparents


Gloria Okada never expected to move back to her childhood home with her parents. 

But then there was the house fire that allowed her folks to rebuild in a way that would accommodate Gloria, her husband and her two daughters. And there was the economic reality of the never-ending rent hikes for their Capitol Hill apartment.  

The move just made sense. 

So in September, the Okadas moved into Gloria’s parents’ home in the Pinehurst neighborhood of northeast Seattle. They have the upper floor of the house where there’s not much of a kitchen, but they have their own space and their own entrance.  

For Gloria, who is Filipino, the transition wasn’t too difficult. She grew up in a bustling household that often hosted friends and extended family who were emigrating from the Philippines. For her husband, David, an only child raised primarily by a single mother, it’s been more of an adjustment.

“He was raised very American in that you leave the nest, and you don’t come home,” Gloria says. 

But the family has discovered many welcome perks to the arrangement. Gloria’s father loves cooking, and they all frequently get together to eat dinner made by Grandpa. If the couple wants to slip out after the kids are asleep, grandma can open the door between the floors in case Addie, 3½, or Lila, nearly 1, cries out. And there are little surprises, like finding someone has put their laundry in the dryer — and even folded it when it was done.

 “It’s been better on our end to live here,” Gloria says. “They are an extra set of helping hands.” 

Her daughters also have a chance to learn from their grandparents’ Tagalog, one of the official languages of the Philippines, and there’s an opportunity to feel comfortable around people of all ages.  

“My hope is they enjoy hanging out with people who are more mature and lived more years,” Gloria says. 

Amy Worrell-Kneller, mother of 5-year-old Wyatt, hopes that living with her 91-year-old father-in-law can help teach her son empathy and patience, and not to be fearful of elderly people. 

“I want to model for my child how one could treat your parents well,” Amy says. 

Before moving in with the family, her husband’s dad was a widower living in British Columbia. While he was active and independent, they all agreed he should be closer to his only son, Byron. So the Knellers bought and remodeled a home in northwest Seattle where both families could live together, but maintain some separation. 

In November 2010, two months before Wyatt was born, Grandpa Herman moved into their basement. He doesn’t help with childcare, but he feeds the cats and they share at least one meal a week together, in addition to other activities in the garden and around the house. Most every evening, Herman comes up to chat with his family.  

“He gets a lot of affection from Wyatt and the cats,” Amy says. It’s a healthy antidote to the reality that older people often don’t get much cuddling and kind touches. 

Amy thinks it’s easier to live with a grandparent in combination with a child. “Having the young and the old makes it work in a weird way,” she says. “There’s this joy that children bring. And sometimes when you have an elderly parent, it can be depressing,” she says, as they struggle with declining health. 

Both mothers urge other families to be open to the opportunity to live with their children’s grandparents should the chance arise. 

Gloria’s advice is to clearly communicate with the grandparents and set clear expectations about how the arrangement will work. Additionally, “it’s important to have your own space,” she says, in order to create for your children an identity as a smaller, nuclear family unit.

“We’ll always look back and be glad we built a home with all of us in it,” Amy says. “It’s part of our responsibility and reality, and it’s not just about us and our children. It’s about us and our parents and our children.”

Read Byron Kneller’s blog about living with his son and father under one roof: