When Your Child Becomes a Parent

When Your Child Becomes a Parent

The challenges of three-generational living.

When our daughter came home from college on a Sunday afternoon in 1998, it appeared to be her usual visit to do laundry. But the real reason would propel my husband and me on a path of emotional pain and confusion we never expected.

After returning from church that evening, Kristy tearfully said, “Mom, there’s no easy way to tell you this. I’m pregnant. Eight weeks, I think.”

Over the coming days and weeks, as the anger and pain subsided, we moved into acceptance of our daughter’s pregnancy. I went with her to doctor appointments, Lamaze classes and the mall to buy maternity clothes.

Kristy decided to parent her son. And we decided to let her live with us during the early stages of motherhood. Five days after our grandson, Micah, was born, Kristy returned to finish her last quarter of college. So our schedules changed, as well as our emotional, physical and financial resources.

We faced many challenges with three-generational living. Recognizing the challenges and dealing with them was essential for our family’s emotional health — as it is for all families facing this unplanned change. The following are four of those challenges.

Who is the parent?

From the beginning, we knew Micah needed his mother. We had to learn to be sensitive to Kristy’s emotional and physical needs as she recovered from childbirth and returned to school, while not robbing her of the opportunity to be Micah’s mom. She needed to bond with her son and assume the responsibilities of being a single mother.

We also had to set boundaries. I could have overfunctioned as a grandmother, but that would not have been in Kristy’s or Micah’s best interest.

Who does what?

We began the conversation regarding expectations before Micah’s birth. Some of the areas we explored included:

  • What changes need to be made in our house to accommodate a baby? Who will make those changes?
  • How much can we expect Kristy to contribute to the expenditures while still in school? Should she continue working once the baby comes?
  • What will we need to adjust in our budget to provide child-care and cover other expenses until Kristy graduates?
  • What should we ask and expect of her regarding the needs of the household?
  • To what extent can we participate in the daily care of Micah, considering my husband and I both have full-time jobs?
  • What about Kristy’s social life? She would need the support of friends. How can this be done in light of her new responsibility as a parent?

What about us?

Another family facing these challenges, Don and Cynda, had a solid marriage and enjoyed their empty nest. The nest didn’t stay empty, though, when their 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, and her infant daughter, Sydney, came home.

Don and Cynda do a number of things to take care of their marriage in light of these changes. “We plan a weekend away every two months,” Cynda said. “We continue to go to our couples’ Bible study and hang out with friends. Also, we know this is a season in our life. We are willing to sacrifice so Sydney gets a good start. That helps us keep the present situation in broader perspective.”

What about the primary caregiver?

Bruce and Cheryl’s daughter, Allison, was a junior in high school when she had a baby. Cheryl became the primary caregiver for newborn Madison but intensely felt the physical and emotional strain. Cheryl realized she could not continue and remain healthy.

“I decided that I didn’t have to be the ‘martyr,’ so one day a week I would not have child-care responsibilities. A simple inquiry at our church quickly resolved the situation, and Madison is doing just fine.”

When facing the challenges of three-generational living, it’s helpful to know the situation can bring positives when it is handled well. One father said, “There have been great benefits to all of us through this. Communication with our daughter greatly improved and healed our relationship. Most important, the little boy whose unplanned coming brought such pain and heartache now brings us incredible joy.”

Jayne’s daughter Kristy graduated three months after her son, Micah, was born. Kristy married in 2001 and Micah now has a little sister.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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