Isolating with Multiple Generations Under One Roof

Show Notes

In this mini-episode of Grow Kinder (at Home), hosts Mia Doces and Andrea Lovanhill discuss the joys and challenges of sheltering in place when many generations are under one roof. They talk about how their families have navigated isolating together over the past two months, whether children can parent their parents, and how they think their family relationships will be altered after the stay-at-home order is lifted.



[00:00:02] ANNOUNCER: The Grow Kinder Podcast features conversations with thought leaders in education, business, tech, and the arts who all share one thing in common: a dedication to growing kinder in their work and lives and help others do the same. Brought to you by Committee for Children.


[0:00:25] AL: Hi, Mia.

[0:00:27] MD: Hey, Andrea. Well, how’s it going? What are we in, week eight, nine?

[0:00:31] AL: Are you counting still?

[0:00:33] MD: I’m still counting.

[0:00:34] AL: Actually, I’m using … I’m marking the days on my wall like I’m in a cave.

[0:00:39] MD: Like, what, a prisoner? Nice.

[0:00:42] AL: That’s right. I’m using dried-out markers that my kids have left the caps off of.

[0:00:48] MD: Very good. Yeah, I believe that we here are going into our tenth week and I don’t know. I like to keep track. It helps me stay on track of what we week we’re on, what day we’re on. Sometimes, I don’t know what day we’re on.

[0:01:04] AL: It feels like one long day to me still here in week 10. I don’t know what week it is. I do know that it is Monday, but I would say—oh, no. It’s Tuesday.

[0:01:13] MD: Now, you see.

[0:01:14] AL: Oh, no. I was doing so well earlier. On Monday, I thought it was Tuesday for a good portion of the day. How are you doing in your home right now?

[0:01:26] MD: I am actually doing pretty well. As you know in our household, my husband and I are living with both of our widowed mothers. For six weeks, my son and his girlfriend were living here. They are adults, they are both in their mid-twenties, and they are in law school, so they were doing school online while they were here.

[0:01:50] AL: I was thinking about you today, and I knew I was going to talk to you, and I was like, “Oh, I’m so excited to talk to Mia.” I’m sorry to interrupt. You can go on about why things are going well. But I was like, “I’m so excited to talk to Mia because I’m going to talk to an adult outside of my spouse and I feel like I need that.” Then I thought, “Oh, it’s so different because Mia is surrounded by adults all the time.” Your child is an adult and seeing another adult. Not only are you surrounded by adults but in my experience of your family—and also lawyers—probably very opinionated, strong-willed adults.

[0:02:23] MD: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, first of all, it’s interesting to hear about what my son is studying, right? As someone who likes learning, and my father was a lawyer, and now my son is studying law, that’s super interesting to me, so I like to hear about the cases, everything about this and that.

It’s so different, then, to have two people in their twenties in your home, and then two people who just turned 80. That’s a whole different thing. Yes, during these past 10 weeks, both of our moms turned 80. We had eightieth birthdays. They were not the birthdays we had originally planned. We had big birthday parties planned for both of them that we were not able to execute on but we did our best with our six people and some Zoom interactions. We had singing. We had dancing. It was as much of a party as six people could make it for sure.

But having older people and especially having your older parents is a very unusual window into your future because as adults, many of us live near our parents, but often we don’t see our parents on a regular basis. Some people live with their parents as adults, but I think that it’s a smaller percentage than it used to be. Certainly, for me, it is a whole new experience of having this window into your future.

[0:03:53] AL: Yeah. I’ve been seeing some things more recently about it’s sort of this dual effect, right? Some people are really cut off from the older generation and some are weathering this together at home, so there’s many generations in the same house, which can present its own sort of opportunities and challenges. I so desperately wish that I could be quarantining with my grandmother, for instance, because I have a lot of anxiety about my grandparents, about being far away from them. Then also, I’m sure we would drive each other crazy if that was true. But it would be worth it. I would feel like, “Oh, it’s worth it to be together during that time.” There’s a lot of people who are I think on either side of that, struggling with sort of interacting cross-generationally in ways that they didn’t have to before.

[0:04:46] MD: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, a lot of the reaction when I tell people, my friends, or other people that we brought our mothers to live with us, it’s often more of an, “Oh, no. How’s that going?” kind of reaction, because I think that it is a challenge to have to switch the nature of the relationship no matter what age you are. The relationship between the parent and the child is generally one of one is the caretaker of the other. The parent is the caretaker of the child. Then to kind of have to flip that narrative of then you’re taking care of them I think is challenging for everyone.

So I do think it requires a ton of perspective taking and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. What would it feel like to go and live in someone else’s home, right? You don’t want to be a burden. You want to contribute but maybe you’re physically limited like our mothers are. They can do some things. They can’t do everything. So I think we all have been working really well together to try to think, “Okay.” In a lot of ways, it’s my inclination to be like, “Oh, no. Let me do that for you. Oh, let me go get that thing for you.” Or, “Here, let me bring you something.” Then I’ve had to kind of back off that. It’s going to take them five times as long to go and get that thing, but I should just let them do it.

[0:06:03] AL: Right. I don’t know. There’s this phrase going around, “parenting parents.” People are having to parent their parents, which I think it really offends a lot of parents with adult children. I was wondering, are you getting that from your son, too? Are you sort of having this approach to having your own mother in your home, and wanting to make sure that she’s safe and healthy, and be a good daughter to her, but you have the perspective of an adult now? But then also you had your adult son with you. Was he also like, “Oh, you should really be thinking about this.” Or were there parental lectures just flying across the house in all directions?

[0:06:45] MD: Right. I really tried not to do that because it would be my inclination to start asking him about, “Don’t you have this summer internship, what is your plan for that, what are you going to do between the time that you finish your finals and start your internship, where are you going to be?” Constantly asking questions and trying to figure out what he’s doing. Yeah, I just tried to really back off of that. His girlfriend was here also with us, and they really have it all together. I mean, not all the time like anyone, but they are both very smart and very competent. I just need to … As a parent, I want to recognize that and be appropriate around they know what they’re doing. They’ve got their plans.

[0:07:32] AL: Is your parent doing that for you?

[0:07:33] MD: My mom is a lovely, lovely person.

[0:07:37] AL: You know she’s going to listen to this.

[0:07:37] MD: I don’t know if she’s going to listen to this. She might. No, she’s really thoughtful and she is also someone that likes to be connected, so she spends a good portion of her day on the phone with friends and friends from her senior community, because a lot of people—most of them are still there, and they have a pretty severe lockdown going on. So it’s nice for her to keep in touch with them, with other relatives. It’s very sad for her to not be able to see my brother and his family. Normally, she lives 15 minutes away from them. In addition to my son as her grandchild, she has a 13-year-old and a two-year-old grandchild, and we both miss them terribly. We’re really close, so we do a lot of FaceTiming and that. Multiple times a day, I FaceTime with my brother and his family.

That’s where I get my fix of little ones, but you’ve got little ones right in your house.

[0:08:38] AL: Yeah. I don’t need a fix for that.

[0:08:38] MD: You get your fix every day.

[0:08:40] AL: I get my fix every day. I would just say that they love their grandparents quite a lot, and that has been difficult, and they have a set of grandparents that are here half the time and in Arizona half the time, and they’ve been in Arizona. Typically, the kids can go visit them maybe once a year in Arizona. Then when they come back, they get to see them a lot, and we’re just not sure how that’s going to work, and it’s really hard for them.

My daughter is much more I would say emotive. She’s like, “I’m going to go to Arizona tomorrow. I want to go back.” She’s expressive of feeling that loss, and my son is a little more internalizing and doesn’t voice it. But the other day, he said, “Well, I think I’ve already had the virus, and it just didn’t affect me, so it’s fine.” He’s trying to negotiate with me. I think it’s so much value for them to have those relationships. We were supposed to go to Kentucky and visit my grandmother in April, and they just love being there. When my son had a project for school where he was supposed to talk about if he could be anywhere, if he could go anywhere, what’s his favorite place to go, and he said Kentucky, which shocked me. It’s spoken like someone who didn’t grow up there.

But, I mean, there are wonderful things about it. But the big thing is the people there. The people love him, and he gets to be a star when he goes there because he doesn’t visit very often. So he really felt terrible about missing that and he talks about it. It’s really hard on their grandparents to not see them, and it comes up a lot, and we’ve had these discussions of whether or not, when the grandparents from Arizona come back, can they see them? Will they be able to maintain physical distance? Probably not. I mean, to be there but to have to stay six or 10 feet away, that’s pretty hard for little kids. They feel … I don’t know. It feels like they’re cheated. They feel less loved. It makes them sad.

[0:10:38] MD: Well, you can imagine. Like with my two-year-old niece, there would be no holding her back, no way. If you had to restrain her from going to hug me or my mom, her grandma, I mean, she would just be in tears.

[0:10:52] AL: My daughter is a ninja. You don’t want to try to restrain her physically from anything that she has as a goal, so I’m going to try to avoid that. I was thinking about when you were talking about parenting parents, how people feel that’s really condescending. I always think about how I parent my children and how … I don’t want to be condescending toward my children either. They are people and deserving of respect and some amount of autonomy, although that varies by age.

When I’m trying to take the things we do in our work, I want to parent children like they’re people. I don’t want to parent children like they’re less than people. They have their own thoughts and desires and needs. But I have to kind of think about those and recognize those, even though I have responsibility for them. And I’m trying to sort of apply that in my thinking to other adults in my life that might not be, I don’t know, reacting in the way that I would. And using my SEL skills, perspective taking, and empathy to really try to measure that.

When I have relatives that say, “Oh, no. We’re coming to visit you. We’re going to be there.” I think, “Well, you can’t fly on a plane right now. You can’t. That’s so risky. I’m living with a first responder. I haven’t been able to isolate. Please don’t put me in the position of exposing you to this.” Do you know what I mean? I kind of have those thoughts. And then I was reading recently the power of expressing yourself, what matters about it to you. We’re really worried about you. The kids are really worried that you might get sick or the kids really want to see you, but they think about if they give you something and it makes you sick. How terrible that will be.

Maybe that’s an approach that can work for people sort of thinking, “Yes, this is really hard, and you’re obviously an adult. You may be the adult that raised me but you should take into account how worried I am.” Or, “Can you do it for me?” That was one of the aspects of an article that you’ve probably read too, recently.

[0:13:05] MD: Yeah. I think, well, it’s going to vary for people, right? People have different feelings about how much risk they want to expose themselves too, right? Obviously, we’re seeing that right now with people’s level of comfort with going out. I think it just has to do with how strong those feelings are of loneliness and isolation, and how challenging whatever situation is that they’re in, right?

Right now, with our moms here, I know that there is part of them that would like to go back to living independently and having their lives the way that they live on their own terms, obviously. Yet I think they both really understand the risks and I think that all the family members, like my mother-in-law's grandkids, they reach out to her all the time, and they range in age from I think, gosh, about 4 to 20 or 21. The same thing, the little ones kind of don’t understand: “Can I just come there? I just want to come and see you.” But it’s … At least on our end, I think that everybody has a pretty healthy sense of wanting to stay safe, so they’re doing okay.

[0:14:26] AL: Having different generations or an older generation living with you in your home, are there things that you’re learning or things that you think, “Oh, this is a thing that I want to take away from this.” Anything that’s different for you?

[0:14:41] MD: Oh, yeah. I’ve not had an opportunity to live day-to-day with older people and I think that’s probably the case for a lot of people. It’s both sad and interesting to see what happens to people both physically and cognitively as they get older. They don’t have terrible, terrible problems but they both have some physical limitations. Then you start to see the cognitive issues that come up, right? It’s not really predictable and it is, like I said before, an interesting window into, oh, I see in my own middle age, I forget words all the time. Now, I see in your eighties how that gets so much worse. Oh, no.

[0:15:39] AL: It’s making you introspective.

[0:15:42] MD: Should I do more Sudokus and crossword puzzles? I’m out there now, exercising every day. Yes, I want to retain my mobility. Okay, I’m going to walk every day and try to stay really fit. But what do you about some of the other things that just naturally come with aging that you don’t have a lot of control over? There’s that window into that world that you don’t often see.

[0:16:08] AL: I guess I don’t think about that too much. I think that as humans, a lot of our actions are driven by an awareness of our own mortality and our capabilities and how they change over the course of our lives. I could see where living cross-generationally would influence that but I guess not having people in my life who helped raise me living with me right now, I think a lot about sort of not keeping the things that make them special to me around. Do you know what I mean? I’ve sort of been thinking, “Oh, I need to know, I don’t know, start a memory book,” or …

I’m feeling like this need to capture more of them and I know some people who have started reassessing their wills. I mean, it’s really … This is such as stressful and traumatic time for so many but especially those who are in high-risk categories or have already suffered or lost someone. It’s making people kind of reevaluate some things around what they want to leave behind and that sort of thing. I’m thinking less about myself or what might happen to me and a little more about my loved ones that are in high-risk categories for contracting and then having really terrible effects of the virus, and it makes me want to reach out to them. But I’m also super worried about putting my own anxiety on them, sort of being like, “Hey, will you fill out this memory book for me in case you die?” That’s what it feels like.

[0:17:42] MD: Well, I’m guessing you could probably think of some way that you could present it as a fun project.

[0:17:49] AL: Now, I can’t because I said it, but …

[0:17:51] MD: Yeah, well. But you could do like an oral history, and that’s not a sad thing. That’s fun. I think we did some of that when my grandmother was in her, I don’t know, eighties or nineties. She’s now 105. Oh, yes. I do still have a living grandmother but she does not live with me here.

[0:18:08] AL: Yes. If anyone can withstand this situation, it is your 105-year-old grandmother, I am sure.

[0:18:15] MD: Yeah. But it is sad because just in the last year and a half, her cognitive functioning has gone from very sharp to very not sharp, and so she doesn’t really understand why I can’t come see her. When I call her, it’s very sad because she says things like, “Why don’t you come see me? Can you come today?” Not today. “Can you come tomorrow?” I’m like, “Well, probably not tomorrow either but soon.” That’s really hard.

Andrea, are there any routines that are different that you are doing with your family now that are helping you manage better?

[0:18:50] AL: Well, again, talking about parenting parents. I feel like, if there’s one quick way to just turn people off from listening to you, it’s talking to them about how they should parent. I don’t know about everybody else but I’ve felt inundated with just things about how I should be parenting during this whole situation.

[0:19:12] MD: Really? From other people or from media or from …?

[0:19:14] AL: From the media, yeah. Or there’s an article every other day about it. And in the work we do. It’s inescapable. There’re all the things you should be doing and how you should be homeschooling and all this. Then when we were going to talk today and I was thinking about your situation, I want to parent my children like they’re real people and not be condescending to them in my parenting.

Also, I want to think about when I’m giving advice to people who parented me, how I take that advice. It’s sort of like judgment, right? All of a sudden, you know better or that kind of thing, and I just … That would just be the worst to me for them to think that I was disrespectful or judgmental of them. But I’m feeling a lot of that in my parenting, because there’s no way you could do all of the things. But one of the things we did immediately was we made this schedule, and everybody was all about the schedules. That’s the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to make a schedule, so you can homeschool your kids.

I think I told you that just blew up in my face immediately. We made this beautiful colorful schedule. We made it together, so they felt like they were part of it, and my daughter just destroyed that thing in day one. I think what I realized is I needed to revert to habits and routines. I needed to be worried less about if at 2:00 p.m. they were doing reading than if we got up, we got dressed. We ate breakfast together. “Here are the intentions, and we’re going to do this every day, and it’s going to be a routine. Some days, that’s going to happen earlier or a little later based on our schedule.”

But here’s the thing we do. After we get up, we get dressed. That’s the thing we’re going to do. And then we just kind of make it a habit. It’s aligned to a schedule. We’ve kind of gone back to a schedule off and on since then. I think routines are important, but they’re also kind of tedious, so they add to that [feeling of] it’s one long day or it’s something that’s going to go on forever. There are really important routines to keep yourself going, especially if you have to work, you have to do school work, you have to get to bed at a certain time. That’s really important and it’s research-based around creating routines and habits to help with your mental and physical wellness and I think especially during times of trauma.

But, okay, now we’re kind of got that. Where do we get to shake it up a little, so we don’t feel like robots?

[0:21:34] MD: Right. Yeah, that’s a good question. I agree. I think that the routines kind of help move you through the day. I think, more than the particular schedule, I think for us it’s doing some important things every day. Doing the things that keep you healthy and well, right? To whatever extent that the moms or we can exercise, we try and do some decent amount of exercise every day. To the extent that we can eat healthy meals, we try to do that every day. To the extent that we can make sure that we keep all our spaces tidy and everything else. All those things that kind of add to your sense of well-being are important to keep up. We just try to do those. We try to think of little fun things to mix it up, ways to get our moms out. We take them for rides but we can’t really get out. We did on Mother’s Day. We did some outings.

[0:22:40] AL: Do you think there are things that are … I mean, I can imagine the situation will change family relationships forever. Some of them will be very disconnected. Some people may have reconnected or had deeper connections or conversations than they ever had before. Or you’re living in a home together with your adult children, which you haven’t for a while or whatever, and so you’re learning new things about people. What are some things you think will be altered in your relationship with your family after this?

[0:23:10] MD: I think, at least I can just speak for myself, we’ll have a greater appreciation for the effort that everybody put into this time. Everybody in my household is really trying hard. I think everybody recognizes this as kind of a make-or-break time. It can either be the worst time or you can make the best of it. Literally, every day, I’ll ask the moms, “How are you doing today?” “Oh, it’s a nice day today.” They have something positive to say.

I guess other people have asked me about living with them and I have a tremendous appreciation for this one quality that they both have—or that they both don’t have, actually—and it’s that they’re not critical. So I think one of the hardest things to manage in a parent-child relationship is when a parent is really critical, and being critical can become a terrible habit that people just get used to. I recognize the absence of that in both of them. They are both … I am sure that I do things that are not the way they would like it to be done, and nobody complains about it. I know that there are things that I’d like to be different if we didn’t have people living with us. But I just think to myself, “We’ll, we’re all doing the best we can,” and I think everybody gives one another a lot of grace. I appreciate that. It’s an effort that we all make every day, and that’s something to be grateful for.

[0:24:42] AL: I think that’s a good callout. I can’t remember where this came from, but I have this mantra. I feel like in young adulthood I … Maybe I read it or saw it somewhere, but everybody’s doing the best they can in that moment, and you don’t know what people are carrying, what their internal life is like in that period of time. You might think that you do because you’re weathering this together in a small space or a big space, wherever you might be. But it’s just trying to remember that. Everybody is just trying their best, and I think the thing is, even if people aren’t trying their best, just sort of trying to think that gives you … It lets you take on less of it.

I often think when things are tedious or sometimes they’re getting … I’m finding myself getting more frustrated at work than I have in the past and I think we are in such a unique workplace, like people are great. There’s not a reason to be frustrated with people we work with. They’re so awesome. I just think to myself, in this moment, whatever is happening with them, whatever frustrations might be driving them, I have no control over. But I do have control over my reaction and my frustration. It’s kind of like I can make this better or worse for them, right? I can contribute to this being worse or I can let it go or try a different tactic and try to make it better. I don’t always have the energy to do it but I try to amp myself up for that when I’m really feeling it.

[0:26:09] MD: Yeah. I think the other thing that’s important is to, if you can, take a break sometimes.

[0:26:14] AL: Oh, sure. What’s that?

[0:26:14] MD: We can’t take big breaks, but let’s go to another room, I suppose, for just half an hour and, if you can, have a little break.

[0:26:24] AL: We’ve got to get back to the other parts of our lives now. Speaking of not having a break, I wanted to let you know—I think what really captures how things are going at my house, just to end this for you, is yesterday my son dropped his food on a bathroom floor, and I didn’t even say anything. I mean, I sort of was like, “Are you going to eat that?” He said, “Yup.” Then I had a comment later about it, “Well, you can’t wash a sandwich, so I guess we’re going to eat something off the bathroom floor.” It really bothered me a lot, but I was just like, “Meh.”

[0:27:03] MD: Oh, Andrea. That is such a good metaphor for how we have to just let things go.

[0:27:08] AL: Yeah, it was … I’m still thinking about it today. I was like, “Well, I’m not going to make another sandwich,” and his other parent cares less about that kind of thing and … Oh, well. But I’m still grossed out thinking about it.

[0:27:24] MD: Yeah. We have a lot of those moments and, yes, we just let it go. We eat the sandwich and let it go.

[0:27:31] AL: You just got to eat. Was there anything that you’re doing to stay kind this week that you want to leave us with?

[0:27:40] MD: This was Mother’s Day this past week. I guess I’ll say that, I think in years past, my husband and I would have sent the cards or the flowers or done something to remember the moms, and I think especially for him. I mean, I usually do something with my mom if I am able to, if I’m nearby, if we’re not out of town. But I think for him in particular, it was really different to have to sit down days beforehand and think like, “What are we going to do that’s special for them? How are we going to make this day special for them? We don’t have a lot of options.” There’s not a lot but I feel like, again, it’s part of this putting in the effort. It’s an act of kindness to put in the effort to try and make a day special for someone when the days are all kind of running together.

[0:28:34] AL: Yeah. I think that’s nice.

[0:28:36] MD: How about you?

[0:28:37] AL: Well, I’m going to say something that maybe I’ll take forward from our conversation today as an act of kindness. I’ve been thinking about how people have varying kinds of relationships with their caregivers. They might be good and they might be bad. They might be medium and they might be nonexistent. I have all of those with the various caregivers in my life and I want to think about this as an opportunity to exercise kindness and forgiveness for them, for myself, for things that have been true about our relationship in the past. Maybe a good way to think about it is when you parent your own kids you try to do all the things you wish your parents had done. Maybe I want to apply that also in my interactions with those caregivers.

This is a thing that I think would have been really great if they had been able to do it for me. Now, maybe I want to try to do that for them—not with judgment, but just here’s my perspective on what I know now. So maybe it’s sort of like approaching those relationships with more kindness and openness.

[0:29:45] MD: Yeah. Nice.

[0:29:48] AL: All right. Well, I’ll look forward to our next conversation.

[0:29:51] MD: Good talking to you again today, Andrea. See you later.

[0:29:55] AL: Bye.


[0:29:56] ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed our conversation. You can find more episodes at and make sure to rate and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.