Grandpa in the House: Parenting in a Multigenerational Home

Windows to the Past…and When to Close Them

“But the windows…the windows strike a nerve that reaches back decades.”

This past August’s cool autumnal nights resurrected a family dilemma that I had hoped would be delayed at least a month longer – the problem of the open window. I assume I am like many New Englanders in that I like my windows open, at least a crack, until the first frost. Winter is already so long and the idea of saying goodbye to fresh air in August makes me want to weep.  Though honestly, weep is an understatement – it makes me downright furious.

My father, due to his advanced age and to his sensitivity issues, cannot stand being cold.  If a cool night is predicted I will be reminded countless times in my day that the windows need to be shut that evening. I will be given the precise temperature drop to be expected the moment I walk into the kitchen in the morning.  I will be reminded that he cannot shut our windows himself due to his weakening arms. I will passive aggressively ignore these comments in hopes they will stop.  They will not.

My father has lived with us for just over a year. Bringing in your aging parent is a lovely and loving act and one that I feel good about making. However, sharing your home with aging parents can also ignite two types of conflict – new resentment at needing to alter your lifestyle within your own home to accommodate someone else, and old resentment at needing to rehash the annoyances of your childhood again. For me, the open window falls under both categories.

I so miss the days when I could run my own home the way I liked. Little things that I once took for granted now sound so lovely – usage of that middle aisle in the refrigerator, leaving dishes in the sink until I decided it was time to wash them, letting my young son build Lego on the floor and not pick them up until the next day.  While I miss these things, I also accept their loss as a reasonable sacrifice one should make for an elderly loved one.  It reminds me and my son to think of others. But the windows…the windows strike a nerve that reaches back decades.

My father probably has high functioning autism, or Aspergers.  He has not been diagnosed but thanks to the past twenty years of increasing media and educational awareness, I at least have a name for my father’s quirks.  He is easy to fit into the stereotype – male, a literal math genius, and he was a computer programmer.  He worked on computers when they were the size of rooms and required massive climate control units to keep from overheating. The challenges of living with him are balanced by his kindness, amazing intellect, and a passion for learning that he surely passed down to me and I see already trickling down to my son. The challenges for me, my husband, and my son, come from my father’s perceived rigidness regarding select aspects of daily life.

Growing up as an only child with a father like my dad (and like my mom, who had mental health issues) required me to think like a caregiver at a rather young age.  I was needed to help my parents interpret the social world and any overly stimulating aspects of day to day life. I answered the phone, I ran errands, I cleaned the house. I worried lot about what my friends would think when they came over. One of my most embarrassing childhood memories is a comment made by one of the neighborhood kids, the not nice one, the one who was always certain to say something mean.  Today we would be quick to identify him as a bully.

“Your house smells!”  He was right. I knew that my house was stale.  We did air the house out, but only when the temperature allowed it.  We did clean, if by clean you mean me asking if I could because I was embarrassed by its state. We washed our clothes but not often because it required trips to the laundromat.  We could have afforded a washer and dryer but owning one was too much work, too much of an additional responsibility. So we only washed what really needed to be washed…blankets and jackets rarely made the cut. The house could indeed be funky. It was mostly neat and organized but not clean by most people’s standards. Select things were rigidly organized.  Dust bunnies covered nearly everything else.

Fast forward to today. I open every window of the house the moment I have an unpleasant olfactory response.  Cooking smells – open the windows! Toddler poop – window fans on full blast. I keep them open all the time to prevent any embarrassing odors before they start.  30 degrees outside?  Who cares, it smells like boiled eggs in here.

What I am beginning to realize, slowly and somewhat unwillingly, is that when it comes to my father I am increasingly the one being unreasonable and rigid. It has been cold.  My father is 82 and perhaps it is fair of him to expect that I close the windows before bed when the temps reach the 40s.  Maybe, just maybe, I am letting my bottled up resentments from childhood get the better of me and cause undue conflict in the household where I am currently raising my son – a son who I do not want to grow up with his own intense issue regarding windows.  It might be time for me to just close them…

Statistics on older adults with Aspergers are non –existent since diagnosis only began in the 1990s and few adults seek diagnosis later in life. But here are some web articles I’ve found helpful as I continue to educate myself on older Aspies:

(Photo credits: (cc) glasseyes view)


Wendy Somes

Wendy is an educator and history geek who lives in a century old summer cottage in Goshen with her family, dog, and two cats.  She recently left her work in museum education to become a full time stay at home caregiver to her young son and elderly father. Her column touches on the juggle of the sandwich generation and issues surrounding elders on the Autism spectrum.  When not playing, cleaning, cooking, or chauffeuring, she reads local history, mommy blogs, and celebrity gossip – but she will never admit to that last one.

6 Comments on “Grandpa in the House: Parenting in a Multigenerational Home

  1. Thank you, everyone! I so appreciate the perspective and support family and old friends provided above. It is scary to write about family and my hope is that my story gives comfort to anyone out there doing the sandwich juggle – from either side of the sandwich! That and I want to add to what little there is on the internet about elders with Aspergers.

    Paula, you reminded me of my fear that Joseph will one day feel a need to write about me! It is never easy to live with your parents. But how lovely that you opened your home to your daughter’s family. I think it is in our DNA to find living with family challenging once we are adults. Like the mama bird pushing her chicks out to fly. Alas, it does make me sad to think that one day my son will not want to hang out with me non-stop.

    I will write monthly so stay tuned.

  2. Wendy, I loved reading this article. Writing about family life is not easy to do with both honesty and respect, but you somehow managed to do it with an incredibly gracious tone.I look forward to reading more from you!

    I loved staying with you in August and really enjoyed the time with all of you. I was really struck by how much your dad feels at home living with you. Making your home his home must have presented many more challenges than you write about here. Thanks for your warm hospitality in a wonderfully cool house! -and all the best in living the day-to-day as a caregiver for your dad and your son.

  3. I enjoyed reading your well written and wonderful article Wendy. You really address several difficult issues with sensitivity and grace. Being a caregiver to an elder is not a job for wimps. You’ll do great & will never regret the choice you’ve made. I look forward to reading your future blogs.

  4. Congratulations Wendy! This is such a valuable perspective to share and you do it so wonderfully. I look forward to reading more and you are inspiring me to get back to my own blog. Thanks!

  5. Wendy, it was so nice to be a part of your teen years and to get to know your parents. God planned you to be in that family and you have become a beautiful lady, mom, wife, writer, etc. Please tell Dad (if he remembers us (“Hi”) . We are having the complete opposite experience as Sarah’s family moved in our basement while they wait for their new house to be built. She probably has some of the same feelings of mom’s quirks. It is a give and take situation for all. Thank you for the insights to your family life. Blessings to you.

  6. You captured many feelings here. Well done. While I don’t live in a multigenerational household; when I visit my parents or they visit here these same issues rapidly rise to the surface. I can’t wait to read more. How often will you be contributing to this blog?

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