The Joy of Three Generations

Dresden Shumaker essays

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There are a few things in my life that I’ve come to realize fall outside of most people’s realm of normal living. Most people don’t put mayonnaise on every sandwich. Most people don’t stay until the final credits of every movie. Most people don’t know what it’s like to have lived in a multigenerational family three times in their life.

Every morning I wake up to the sound of my son laughing. Usually it’s over a retelling of a dream or possibly a silly weatherman, but without fail his morning starts in a fit of giggles. I wish I could say I was the one responsible for his morning laughter, but it’s not me. It’s his grandmother, Lolly. By the time I wake up, the two of them will have had dozens of adventures all in the span of 30 minutes. I enjoy the laughter, and then it’s my job to cajole everyone into work clothes or school uniforms. Then it’s breakfast, making of the lunches, a rush to get shoes on, and then a dash to the car so we can drop off Lolly at the train station. My son, W, and I wait to make sure her train arrives, and then I drive him on to school.

It seems so normal to us, and we honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I was seven, my mother and I moved into a basement apartment in the home that belonged to my grandparents. Mom was about to start law school and having two extra adults to help look after me was a relief for her.

I was thrilled to be able to spend so much time with my grandparents. Not once did I ever feel neglected or secondary. I understood that mom needed to focus on her studies and while she was doing that, my grandfather was teaching me how to play chess and my grandmother, Millie, was teaching me how to write proper thank you letters.

Decades later I became Millie’s caregiver. When my mother and I moved in to take care of her, we once again became a multigenerational family. Like before, I was the youngest in the three generations, but my role was incredibly different. When I was younger, Millie and my grandfather helped to take care of me. Now I was providing care to Millie.

When I became a mom, we all delighted in being part of a four generation family. We knew it was special and we celebrated that. Millie and my mother were tremendously helpful in supporting me through my pregnancy and early motherhood.

After Millie passed away, I couldn’t imagine not being near my mom. Thankfully she felt the same way about us!

The percentage of families like mine in America is steadily increasing. “According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, live in a house with at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and at least one other generation.”

True, many multigenerational families come together because of financial issues or health circumstances like mine did, but something amazing happens when all of those generations get under one roof. Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, says, “Families may be coming together because of the economy, but they’re staying together because it helps them all.”

Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, says that according to the most recent studies, close to 8 million kids live with their grandparents. “To put that in perspective, that means that about 1 in 10 kids are living with a grandparent.”

I asked my son what he liked about living with his grandmother. I explained that not everyone gets to do such a thing and wanted to know what he thought was particularly special about it.

“I get to go on adventures. She takes me to church. And she has breakfast with me. She sometimes does the bath and story. I would be sad if Lolly was not here.”

I then turned to my mother to ask the same question.

“You all are the life and the light, the brightness and the noise, the forward motion in an otherwise solitary journey.”


So what do I think is so great about my multigenerational family? Personally I feel lucky to have my mom as my support system at home. It’s also great that the two of them, grandmother and grandson, enjoy hanging out with each other so much. (She’s actually playing with W right now while I write this.) I love getting to watch my mom WITH my son. It reminds me of how much I loved hanging out with my grandparents. And yes, it has been cost-effective to split many household bills.

A few times I will confess to worrying about dating and having to tell the guy, “I live with my mother.” But then I remember that Cher’s character lived with four generations in Moonstruck—and that all worked out just fine for her.

This way of life, under one roof with multiple generations, works for us. It’s worked many times and in many different scenarios. I hope my son will continue the family tradition.

This story originally appeared on Babble. Read more of Dresden's writing: 'On Mentally Preparing Myself for Dating as a Single Mom,' 'The Real Cost to Get Pregnant When You're a Single Mom,' and 'Almost Homeless: My Family's Journey Through Financial Hell and Back.'


About the Author

Dresden Shumaker

Dresden is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, women's health issues, multigenerational families and single parenting. She lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her awesome mom and inquisitive five year old son. Dresden has been chronicling her nontraditional path to motherhood for nearly ten years on her blog, .

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