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where we live: Grandma lives downstairs

Kids Madrona and Gahlia with their grandmother, Diane Beverly,a few years ago. Photo courtesy avid Basior and Ariel Zaslav family.

Where we live: Grandma lives downstairs

An intergenerational family experience

David Basior, Ariel Zaslav, and their two kids, Madrona and Gahlia (ages 12 and 9), would say that they have the ideal housemate. She’s reliable with rent, she provides childcare support, she walks the family’s dog, the kids adore her — and she’s also their grandmother.

A big decision

Before Diane Beverly, Basior’s mother, moved in with the family, she lived and worked in Florida. A 2014 hip injury forced her into early retirement and left her wondering what to do next. Then came news that Basior’s family was moving from Philadelphia to Seattle for a new job.

With Seattle’s cost of living significantly higher than Philadelphia’s, Basior and Zaslav proposed an option to Beverly: What would living together in Seattle and sharing expenses look like?

Trying different configurations

For several years, the family tried different options in Seattle, including renting a home together and living apart within the same neighborhood. In 2020, they landed in their current three-story townhome in the Central District. Beverly lives in the bottom studio, with the rest of the family occupying the top two floors. The family members regularly flow through each other’s spaces, whether Beverly is cooking in the kitchen or relaxing in the living room, or the kids are running downstairs to see grandma before heading to school.

In this multigenerational household, everyone has an opportunity to witness and welcome the perspective of another generation.

Learning her kids’ parenting style

Though Beverly is a parent with many years of experience, she has become more of an observer and learner of her son and daughter-in-law’s parenting style. When their children were younger, Beverly would often defer to the parents for guidance. Now that the kids are older, she can be more honest and direct, navigating conflicts and conversations with them one-on-one rather than through the parents.

“She’s beyond respectful and is really interested in the ways that we’re parenting that are similar and different from the way she parented — and she doesn’t take the differences personally,” Zaslav says. “My 12-year-old is very opinionated, so they will definitely butt heads, but they can work through it now without needing us to coach or offer any theory about why we might do something a certain way.”

Increasing understanding aging

Even as they benefit from having a grandmother so close, Madrona and Gahlia are learning about the realities of aging. Although Beverly is still independent and mobile, the family is beginning to talk about how to mutually care for one another. For example, Madrona may soon officially take on the role of carrying her grandma’s laundry up and down the stairs.  

“It feels useful for [the kids] to understand [aging],” Zaslav shares. “I think they sort of understand a little bit about their other grandparents, who don’t live here, but they’re not seeing it every day, so they don’t have nearly as much awareness of ways that aging is impacting them or ways that they need support.”

Humor helps

Beverly’s aging is a pathway for open conversations and humor. When she recently got hearing aids, the kids told her, “We didn’t even know how annoying it was that you couldn’t hear us all the time. Now you can hear us — and it’s annoying because sometimes we have to be quiet or be careful what we say around you because you can actually hear everything.”

Having another adult in the household also means having both informal and formal childcare support. Given Basior’s odd work hours and Zaslav’s work/grad school demands, the extra help comes in handy. Beverly is available to pick up the kids from school, play games, or take them to the library when their parents are not.

Overcoming challenges

That same benefit, however, also has its challenges. Folding a third adult into the household requires consulting someone else’s needs and schedule before plans are made. It adds another layer of communication and forces the family to stay organized. Sometimes it works seamlessly; other times, communication fails and someone is unaware of dinner guests or a doggie playdate, all of which may mean more noise and chaos.

“And I’m not going to lie — living with my partner’s mother and their lifelong dynamic — they navigate it really well, and I’m impressed a lot of the time,” laughs Zaslav. “And then there are moments where I’m, like, am I living with a teenager and his mother? I don’t think there would be any way around that — I think that’s just part of it.”  

Read more:

Where we live: Good-bye city, hello country

About the Author

Melody Ip

Melody Ip has been an avid writer since she got her first diary at the age of 5. Today, she is a freelance copy editor and writer, in addition to being the copy chief for Mochi Magazine. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.