Some of my best blog ideas often come from everyday conversations. Last week at the bus stop, I was talking to one of my grandson's neighbors. She asked me if I lived with my son and daughter-in-law. She and her husband came to the U.S. from India several years ago, and they were astonished that families lived separately from grandparents in this country. She said the custom in India is that after marriage, the wife moves into her husband's home and their children are raised in that home. As we talked, I realized how much life has changed in our own country through the years. When I was growing up, my grandparents lived with us, as was the case with many grandparents. Looking back through history, it seems the majority of families lived together or in close proximity; many of our historic homes have additions from different time periods because as the family expanded, new rooms were necessary. In India, this must still be the custom, with close family bonds between the generations, aunts, uncles and cousins.
And, I thought, what a secure life this must be for children. There is always someone at hand who is related to them, and cares deeply for them. I know I was never left with a babysitter because my grandmother was always right there with me when my parents went out. In modern society, children tend to move out of their parents' home as soon as they are financially independent; they very seldom live with their parents once they have children of their own, unless there are financial difficulties. And this is life the way we know it.
We were raised to be independent, and now, as grandparents, we are encouraged to be independent, active, and involved in the community at large. Many grandparents are separated by long distances from their children and grandchildren. We have come to accept this as the norm. I value my independence, and would never choose to live with one of my children. I dedicate many hours of each day to the care and guidance of my three little grandchildren, but I return home to my own quiet house in the evening.
Fortunately for the grandchildren of today, many grandparents are taking on the role of caregiver while parents work. How much better for a child to be with a grandparent all day, with the security of unconditional love, than with a stranger, no matter how kind and loving he or she may be. How wonderful for grandparents to share special everyday moments with these children of their children.
And, I wonder, was life better when families were closer in proximity or shared a family home? I'm sure there were arguments and issues to smooth over, but were they comforted by knowing the financial burdens of running a home did not fall on two parents alone? Were the children happier and more secure being surrounded by loved ones? Did shared labor make the chores less tedious and time consuming? Were there always extra hands available to rock a teething baby, bathe a tired toddler, practice spelling words? Was it easier to care for the elderly and the disabled when they were living under the same roof, and there were many family members to share the burden of their care each day?
I think maybe those were better times; however, I'm not certain that anyone would choose to go back to that way of life now. Our generation raised our children to be independent and to follow their own paths, and they are happy with homes of their own, and the privacy to conduct their family lives the way they choose. I am happy to take care of my grandchildren during the day, but still feel the need for quiet evenings to rest and enjoy my own pursuits.
And yet, I wonder -- do we work harder and stress more than necessary in the name of independence? Do we value our independence too much to return to another way of life, even if it meant less stress? What do you think?