If you had told me three years ago that my mother would be living on the second floor of the duplex my husband and I owned, I would have called you crazy. At the very least, I would have served you with a healthy dose of side-eye, which is what I gave my realtor when he tried to show my mom a condo three blocks from our house. The thought of having her within a three-minute walk seemed too close for maintaining a healthy relationship.
That was then.
Now, with a toddler who is swiftly approaching the terrible twos, I am grateful for her proximity and how it has strengthened our relationship.
Shortly after my mom moved into her condo, which was then a satisfactory mile-and-a-half away, I became pregnant with my son. When I went back to work, she was there as our "granny nanny." Leaving my little one for eight hours was a challenge I wasn't quite prepared for, but luckily I knew that my son was in the hands of someone who loved him. I got to watch as my mom blossomed into a grandmother.
That first year wasn't without its hiccups and challenges. Since my husband and I were already using her energy during the day, we were hesitant to ask for any additional babysitting. It became clear that one of the hardest parts of her helping us was the constant back and forth between the two apartments, especially over the Winter. When the couple who rented our spare upstairs apartment decided to move out, our family talked about my mom becoming the new tenant.
Of course, we had our reservations. The last thing I wanted was to feel like I was 15 again.
I had grown used to the freedom of adulthood. If I decided to spend all day in my pajamas or I went out late with my girlfriends, I needed to know that my mom would refrain from judgment. Even though I keep a fairly clean house, she's still cleaner than I am. Sometimes she'll straighten up toys or fold laundry and I have to tell myself that she's doing it to be helpful, not because she thinks I can't maintain my home. I can't be a sensitive teenager with every perceived slight.
For this situation to work, we had to think of it as two homes under one roof, not one big house. Setting boundaries, such as knocking or texting before the other person came over, were imperative. Babysitting requests would be given with as much notice as possible and would be limited to two hours. The biggest rule that we both agreed to is that each person has the right to say "no." If she doesn't want to babysit, she can say no. If we just want a quiet family dinner, we have the right to say no. Neither one of us wants the other to feel obligated to do anything, since obligation can so often lead to resentment.
Through being honest about our fears and coming up with some solutions, we've created a living situation that works for us. One major adjustment we made was that my mom would stop being the primary caretaker during the workday. Taking care of a large and rambunctious toddler became a little too much for her on a regular basis. With the knowledge that she would move in upstairs, I felt comfortable taking time off of work to be with my son. I've become a stay-at-home mom, which has helped alleviate the pressure on my husband, who works from home, and on my mom, who now gets to just be Grandma. With her living upstairs, there are benefits I had never thought of when she had her own place. At least once a day I'll look at my son and ask if he wants to see Grandma, and with breakneck speed he'll run for the door and happy scream until he's climbed the stairs to her place. These short, sometimes just-20-minute visits give us a chance to catch up, while my son gets a change of scenery. We all play with toys, read books, and talk about our day as a family.
Her living so close has allowed us to develop what we call "nanny camming," where she puts him on the video monitor while he's sleeping. These nanny-camming events allow her to stay in the comfort of her apartment while my son is safely monitored from his own room, and for his mommy and daddy to have some time to themselves to take a walk or go on an actual date. Additionally, since she is just a text away, she's also there for those times when I just need a 30-minute break to think, unpack the groceries, or be alone.
This situation works because we each have our own space and that autonomy would be jeopardized were we living in the same apartment.
Although she is closer than I had ever imagined her being, I still don't think either of us would be comfortable living in the same home together. By maintaining space, respecting boundaries, and listening to each other, I can honestly say I've never regretted the decision to have my mom come to live above me.
Having a kid changed my perspective on a lot of things, which was to be expected. I was not prepared to become one of those people who brags about living close to their parents, but here I am: proud that my son gets to say his grandma lives upstairs and for me to acknowledge that my mom and I are closer in more ways than one and closer than ever before.