Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: My husband’s father died last year and now his 75-year-old mother is coming to live with us.  Is there anything I can do to help our kids (8 and 10) be prepared? Our house is not huge so she will be a large presence in our day-to-day lives.

BBB: While this change will require a huge adjustment on everyone’s part, I am sure there will be as many benefits—if not more—as there are challenges.

I am not at all sure that one can truly be prepared for anything in life, even if you know what is coming. Hearing about something and living it are quite different things. And so will be the case for your family, as you adapt to having Grandma live with you.

You all need to understand that it will be a process, and it will take time for everyone. You will develop a new normal in your house and with your family. I can promise you that a time will come when you will have a hard time remembering what life was like before Grandma moved in.

Look at this whole change as an opportunity for learning, growth and character development of all kinds for your children. As you discuss what will happen and the accommodations all of you will have to make, perhaps you could spin it with a positive perspective.

You have the privilege of caring for your mother-in-law (even if you don’t see it that way right now). You can certainly joke that grandma will be another ear and shoulder for them when they are mad at you.

In addition to talking about the positive side, it is also important to discuss the-not-so-positive accommodations everyone will have to make. Be sure to validate any not-so-happy feelings the children may have.

Bring out into the open whatever you anticipate about living with Grandma—sometimes older people are forgetful or they talk loudly or chew noisily. (And when it does happen, you can give a knowing wink to your children.) Talk about how sometimes older people are impatient or crabby or just plain annoying, adding “But aren’t we all!”

I actually mourn the reality that more children are not growing up with the “old wise ones” of their family. Living with a senior family member provides so much for a child. The senior is another pair of hands to help, another lap on which to cozy up and a shoulder on which to cry when mommy or daddy have “wronged” them or when they’re not available.

Living with older people also allows children to become familiar with the aging process. Here in the Palisades, children don’t really see what “old” looks like since “old” is often dyed or surgically removed! And really old people are put in rest homes. How are children to understand old when they don’t really live with it?

As part of learning about the life cycle, children see that old is what usually happens before death as we become less vital.

Finally, caring and making accommodations for a senior in your home is a wonderful model for your children. You are modeling being a patient, caring and loving daughter-in-law. You are teaching your children how we take care of our older family members. And remember, one day that will be you!

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.