My son, husband and I moved to Reno from Connecticut in late 2014. We returned to my husband’s home state the day before the 150th Nevada Day celebration and, more importantly to our then 4-year-old, the day before Halloween. Having left Connecticut without jobs lined up and a mortgage still on our hands, we moved in with his parents, my in-laws, our son’s grandparents.
Though we soon found jobs and eventually sold our house (in late 2015), we spent the year together as one family.
And we’re not alone in terms of families that choose to go this route. According to healthychildren.org, a website powered by the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 2.5 million children live with one or both parents in their grandparents’ home.
Our son changed their pristine house into a lively, sometimes messy place, with sticky peanut butter and jelly smudges on their chairs and toys on the floor. He renamed the formal living room lined with bookshelves. It is now known as the library, something we all found quite comical and fitting, as my mother-in-law is a retired librarian.
About a month ago, they moved into a newer, single story house. We’ve stayed, renting their old home.
Becoming a nuclear family again after spending time as a multi-generational household has been an exciting and challenging process. Initially, I couldn’t wait for us to be on our own again, but as moving day crept closer, the more I wished they didn’t have to go.
It turns out we miss them incredibly. While cohabiting, there were times when we all got on each other’s nerves for sure. But mostly we miss them.
Now blessed is not a term I would normally use to describe myself. But living together – simply having family nearby – has been just that, a blessing.
The whole experience was so special for us because, back in Connecticut, our closest relatives were about a 40-minute drive away and my parents and siblings lived out of state. We were on our own. And that was probably my fault. For years, I was too proud to admit that we needed family to lean on. We could do it ourselves, I would think, as I watched friend after friend, coworker after coworker drop their child with their parents for a date night or snow day.
Before we moved to Reno, we had never spent a night away from our son. Our emergency contacts for day care centers were friends, often just as busy as we were, or working in towns just as far away.
The truth was, in Connecticut, we were struggling without family.
Out here, if our son was mildly sick, or during part of his 3-week Christmas break, we didn’t always have to stay home from work. He had grandparents willing to stay with him. Of course, we were there some of the time. It was just nice to have someone around to lighten the load.
Most days we came home from work or lessons with dinner already in the middle of preparation. That’s probably what I miss the most. At least on soccer Mondays and karate Tuesdays.
While we lived together, I got to see firsthand the joy my son brought to his grandparents almost every day, with goodnight hugs, imaginary play and his passion for dessert or “bessert” as he called it for a while.
In exchange, we got to witness their 49-year marriage on a day-to-day basis. It was nice to see how they cared for each other and laughed together after all those years.
I’d like to think we pitched in more than we did. I know we made some meals, worked in the garden and shoveled snow. Occasionally, we grabbed the groceries. But I know it wasn’t nearly as much as we could have done.
For weeks after they moved out, our son begged to see them on almost a daily basis. One day, we stopped by their new house but they weren’t home. He was just devastated. It was heartbreaking.
And initially the house felt quiet. So quiet.
Now, a month later, we’re all getting used to short visits to play games, have dinner, or pack up the few remaining objects unintentionally left behind. We talk on the phone and text often.
The three of us are relearning how to function as our original, smaller family. I’m enjoying grocery shopping, planning our favorite meals again and helping our son with his homework. And it’s nice to be comfortable walking around in my pajamas on a Sunday morning.
We’ve refurnished the house and started hanging up some of our favorite paintings and photographs. It’s starting to feel more like our home and less like theirs.
I realize now that while we are in different houses, we are forever a family. I know they will be there for us, just like we are here for them.
I learned a lot from living with my in-laws, and even if I didn’t realize it at the time, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
My name is Laura Varnon. I live in Northwest Reno with my husband and our 5-year-old son, in a house we rent from my in-laws. I am a former reporter, business editor, ad agency employee and administrative assistant. I came to Reno by way of Connecticut and New York.