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The 36-Hour Day

with Lylah M. Alphonse

I'm a full-time editor, a part-time writer, and a mom and stepmom to five amazing kids, ages 1 to 14. For me it's not about finding balance, it's about the daily juggle-- my career, my commute, freelance work, homework, housework, married life, social life, and parenting-- and finding the time to get it all done.

To learn more about Lylah, check out her Work It, Mom! profile and read her blog at

Should I get a Grannynanny?

Categories: Hacking Life, Parenting, The Juggle


(Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

So, we’re going to have a multi-generational First Family in the White House: Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, will be moving in at least temporarily, to take care of Sasha and Malia while their high-powered parents balance work and life (and the country).

Part of me wonders how they’ll all get along. Of course the Obamas are grateful — Michelle Obama has often said that her mom is the reason she’s been able to juggle career and parenthood — but I’m pretty sure that, up until now, Mrs. Robinson has been living in her own home, not in theirs (15 bedrooms notwithstanding, living with your mother-in-law is still living with your mother-in-law).

Now, I adore my mother-in-law, and I know she reads this blog (so, B., please don’t take this the wrong way), but I’m pretty sure that if she moved in with us while she and I were both hale and hearty she would want to kill me in no time.

It’s an old idea made new again: Grandparents living with their adult children, helping to raise the grandkids. A recent study by AARP shows that multigenerational households are on the rise, up from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million last year, an increase from 4.8 percent of all households to 5.3 percent. “It’s not always a smooth ride — families being what they are — but it’s still an appealing solution to the work-life conundrum,” Penelope Green points out in a New York Times article.

I definitely see the appeal — mostly. But what do you do if your parenting style is vastly different from your mom’s or dad’s? Who is in charge… you or your parents?

My friend Nancy suggests a new business opportunity: The Grannynanny. “For all those folks with no family in the state to help out with snow days, sick kids, and those hard to schedule grown up doctor’s appointments!” she writes (on Facebook, of course!). Grannies whose own grandkids are far away get to spoil your kids rotten help you with childcare while you avoid any tense adult-child-vs-aging-parent dynamics. Win-Win!

One of my brothers moved back to our hometown a few years ago, and ended up buying a house literally right around the corner from my parents’. My sister-in-law often says that she was worried, at the time, that my mom would be dropping by constantly, but it turns out that she’s the one who is always calling and asking my mom to help her with the kids.

My mom? Loves it, loves it, loves it, and has totally become their Grannynanny, though she hasn’t moved in with them (yet). Three of her granddaughters live practically within walking distance — what’s not to love? The oldest goes to the same school my brothers and I went to, and my mom gets to have deja vu on a regular basis while helping out in the classroom, attending assemblies and recitals, tying ice skates, chauffeuring them to dance to soccer, picking them up from school, and grocery shopping with a baby in the cart.

I love my mom with all my heart, and will admit here and now that yes, I am a bit jealous about how much closer she is to my nieces than she is to my kids, and yes, I really should to drive down there and visit more often, but move in with her or she with me? Just so she can be my kids’ Grannynanny? Um… look! Something shiny!

Would you have your mom (or MIL) live in with you to be your Grannynanny? Why or why not?

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13 comments so far...

  • Wow, timely post! I realize that it can work, and if it does, it can be wonderful for all involved. My personal experience says it will not work for me. My in laws have been living with us on and off for a while now. I can see both pros and cons. Yes, it is a help with cooking and cleaning, but I feel stifled. They overrule me and my husband doesn’t see it. They are Asian, so when all 4 adults are home, they speak Vietnamese. I feel left out, but my husband doesn’t care. They are trying to help and my husband is just sitting back and letting them do everything. It is truly contributing to the downfall of our marriage. I voiced all my concerns before this happened, but was not taken seriously. i hope other peole have better results.

    ramseyquipp  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 7:03 am

  • My wife and I live 2,000 miles from both our sets of parents, mostly because we love California and don’t want to face going back to New York winters. But we have two daughters, one aged 3 months and the other nearly 4 years, and the distance is getting to be a drag. My older daughter absolutely loves spending time with both sets of grandparents, and my wife and I love getting some time to ourselves and leaving the kids with someone who is 100% capable and trustworthy, and who doesn’t expect seventy bucks for an evening of babysitting.

    Sometimes I envy my sister, who stayed close to home and was able to drop her pre-school age kids off with “grandma daycare” every weekday while she and her husband went to work as teachers. My wife and I, without relatives nearby, must pay (an outrageous amount) for our daughter’s preschool… and while we know she is well cared for and happy while she’s at school, it’s no substitute for a grandparent’s love. My sister’s kids are pre-teens now, but she still has a cushy situation… on most Fridays, her two kids go over to grandma’s for a sleepover, and my sister and her husband get a night to themselves. Nice.

    So… the subject of moving back east comes up often, and the grandparent situation is one of the things we mark on the “pro” side of the equation. Will it be enough to make us leave CA? I dunno… ask me in a year when I have a five-year old and a toddler on my hands.

    Bill Spring  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  • Ramseyquipp: I was wondering how having a multicultural family would affect the living-with-the-in-laws situation. It seems like it could be a minefield even without the added layer of different language, cultural norms, or family hierarchies. I’m sorry your situation isn’t working for you, but I admire that you’ve pointed out some of the pros as well as the cons. Hope things get better.

    Bill: Thanks for dropping by! I hear you re your sister… the free babysitting would really be nice (for me and my wallet), and I sometimes wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by not living closer to family. Then again… my own parents moved continents away from their parents when they were young adults, and my grandparents and I were still close. So it’s hard to tell…

    Lylah  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 2:08 pm

  • My parents live with my husband, our 2 children (ages 1.5 and 3 weeks), and me, so I’m part of the growing statistic. My mom takes care of my toddler when I’m feeding my newborn or when I want to nap. She is free babysitting.

    As for clashing parenting styles, I’ve been there and done and continue to do that although not as bad as when my first son was just born. When my first son was born, my mom tried way too hard to be helfpful. She’d barge into my room when she heard my son crying and held out her hands expecting me to just hand him over so she can stop the crying. Umm, no.

    These days, there are still daily annoyances with my mom: her telling me what to do, her acting like a know-it-all, her speaking like she’s giving me her approval when she hears me telling my toddler that it’s time for bed or for him to put his shoes on or time to drink some juice and other stuff like this, etc. But I’ve grown to have high tolerance.

    But having her in the house saves me a ton in daycare costs and I don’t have to juggle taking care of a toddler and a newborn, plus I get to nap when I need to. My mom is agreeable most of the time. When I say I’m napping, she says okay. When I ask her to give my toddler some juice, she says okay.

    So as with anything in life, there are goods and bads.

    Linda  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 11:07 pm

  • I like the Grannynanny as a business concept! I wouldn’t mind being called upon more often to be a “Grannynanny”, but my DILs have their own agendas, either with their children or their liives.
    I never turn down a request, because it allows me that precious time with the kids. I attend soccer games of one of my granddaughter’s team and enjoy it very much and when she is sick, I become the parent of the day . I’m happy. I get to see that she reading a book, doing her homework or we bakie cookies..
    When my little munchkins travel 1500 miles to visit Grammy in Florida….I let them and their older siblings have run of the house, Even though the older siblings live nearby, I don’t get to see them that much. Too many adjustments and schedules!
    Lylah, what would be the duties of a Grannynanny, other than getting all the daytime love and affection of the kiddies? I know of one Grannynanny who has had enough. She feels that her daughters have been taking advantage of her ….she’s been a Grannynanny for a very long time. What happens when the daughter or DIL becomes jealous of the Grannynanny, because the children have become totally dependent on Grannynanny. and shows her much love? It happens.
    Does having a Grannynanny 365 make you less than a mother? No, it doesn’t as long as Grannynanny does the laundry, cooks dinner, and run the wifey errands.while you mother and raise the children. The most pleasurable sight to watch, is your child raising his/her child (and not butting in).

    Barb  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 11:48 pm

  • Hi Lylah,

    As usual, you are the best! This is a great discussion - and an important one. I know how horrible it is for us to imagine sharing our homes with in-laws, the way they have different ideas about child-rearing, cleaning, cooking, etc. Nonetheless, my wife and I have been working our way up to it step by step - like tip-toeing into an icy lake before making the plunge. It has been excellent for our daughter, my wife is able to actually do work without worries, I get to enjoy foods that my Mother-in-law often has time to prepare, and I believe my MIL feels very happy to be able to have such a significant role in raising our daughter.

    I know that’s not for everybody, and much depends on individuals and their unique relationships. But much also depends on how willing we are to coordinate our lives in order to make such a change really work for everybody. As some of your other commenters have noted, there can be a lot of tensions if the grand parents take the lead. But if you have a parent or in-law who is willing and capable - and you can establish and maintain limits to keep your lives at least a little separate - then even short days or other timing arrangements to assist you in caring for your child can certainly save $, give you useful time, and will give your child and parents the opportunity to grow together.

    While I would definitely prefer to be able to take the time myself to raise my own children, I have not figured out how to make that work and still pay my bills and keep my sanity. However, when I am older, I do hope to have the time and opportunity to help my children (or others) with their families - ideally without causing them undue stress over where I put away the silverware or what I think may be a good toy for the kids!


    Luke  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 11:32 am

  • Linda: Good point about there always being pros and cons to living situations like this. I think it must be hard for the grandparent to adjust to being “caregiver” instead of (as opposed to in addition to) “Mommy,” but it seems like you and your mom have found a good balance!

    Barbara: I hope your DILs call on you more often! I think the “duties” of the Grannynanny depend on the individual situations, whether the grandparent lives in the same house or on her own, and what the parents are juggling, in terms of work and life (ie, the family’s needs would be very different if one parent is in the military, or if one parent has to travel often for business, or is a single parent). You bring up two excellent points, about Grannynannies who feel taken advantage of by their kids and grandkids and those who are dealing with insecure and/or jealous parents. Any grandparents out there who can weigh in on this?

    Luke: Thanks for coming by! I haven’t figured out how to do it all and still stay sane, either, and I think your point about easing into it makes sense. Grannynannying doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing solution; setting schedules and limits can make the change easier to adjust to (and appreciate!).

    Lylah  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 12:34 pm

  • No question having a grandparent(s) move in to help is a bonus PLUS. Yet tensions and differences do surface. It’s important to set boundaries, outtline or define roles and discuss expectations for the arrangement in advance. Equally critical are not allowing tensions to percolate and not falling into the mommy-child roles of yesteryear. As adults and parents, remember and remind parents when necessary that these are your children and cerain rearing issues are important to you.

    Here’s hoping Marian Robinson remains in the White House and teaches other grandparents how to be supportive and nurturing.
    Susan Newman

    Susan Newman  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm

  • I just wanted to comment on your wondering. In the Asian culture, sons are often the favored sex. Factor in the fact that my husband is the only son and the youngest, he is basically spoiled. He is used to getting what he wants and was shocked that I didn’t want them living in the same common space. (It is common for multigenerations to live together in Asian culture. It was discussed before we married, but they were going to live in an in law apartment or we would all live in a duplex-a generation per side. It didn’t happen that way.) Then there is the respect your elders mindset. Although, I totally agree with it, he is an adult now and we need to make parenting decisions, not the 4 of us. There is also ‘things’ that I have no idea about. Like it is considered extremely rude to tap someone on the head. If I do something that is ‘taboo’, there is a reaction, but seldom explanation why it is bad. His mom is also a very strong woman, so she expects things to go her way. I always feel like I am in a 3 way power struggle. I cannot blame the state of our marriage on their being with us, but it certainly adds more tension, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Like I stated earlier, it is a great situation if it works for everyone.

    ramseyquipp  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  • I just read my last post and the tone sounds angry. It isn’t meant to be. I am just a bit stressed. :)

    ramseyquipp  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 10:14 pm

  • Susan: Thank you for your comment, and for bringing up the “mommy-child roles of yesteryear” issue. I know many people who tend to fall back into their childhood place in the family when they spend a long period of time with their parents… I can see how that could be a danger in a situation like this.

    Ramseyquipp: Thank you for the added insight! You don’t sound angry, but you are in a stressful situation, and I appreciate that you took the time to share more of it with us. I grew up in a multicultural household, though not a multi-generational one — my mom is from India and my dad is from Haiti. My mother’s mom was in politics; she turned my parents’ honeymoon into a State Event and went on it with them! I can only try to imagine what it would have been like to have that layer of stress on a 24/7 basis…

    Lylah  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 10:20 pm

  • Been there done that wanted to kill each other. Maybe it can work if it is the wife’s mother, but it was my husband’s mother, and that just didn’t work. At ALL. 2.5 years later, the relationship is no where what it used to be. A mistake that was far more damaging than helpful.

    spacegeek  |  January 24th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

  • spacegeek: I was just talking to my mother in law about this last night… wondering how the tensions change when it’s the husband’s mother vs. the wife’s mother. I think the interpersonal dynamics between the parent and grandparent can make or break the live-in GrannyNanny situation…

    Lylah  |  January 24th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

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