Three generations — make it four! — under one roof

A family found joy in nonconforming freely

Three generations of Eashes and Eash-Scotts in August 2021. The author’s parents, Esther and William Eash, are at the upper left. Rachel and Peter Eash-Scott are at the lower left and upper right, with sons Daniel, center, and John between them. — Rachel Eash-Scott Three generations of Eashes and Eash-Scotts in August 2021. The author’s parents, Esther and William Eash, are at the upper left. Rachel and Peter Eash-Scott are at the lower left and upper right, with sons Daniel, center, and John between them. — Rachel Eash-Scott

Ten years ago, as a fully functioning adult with a job, a husband and two young boys, I moved back in with my parents. It was a bit hard to explain why we would sell our house and move halfway across the country into the upstairs bedrooms in my parents’ home in Newton, Kan. 

“You’re sharing a kitchen with them? What if you get irritated with each other? I could never do that!” I got used to hearing comments like these, but we knew it was an adventure we were willing to try.

Our family was, in fact, moving from a similar arrangement — an apartment building in Lancaster, Pa., shared with church members who were only acquaintances when we agreed to move in. We had separate living spaces but shared laundry and outdoor space — and, more important: meals, laughter and advice. 

We brought our second son home from the hospital to this shared living arrangement, and he grew up knowing another set of fun-loving adults was just a staircase away. I often found him ensconced on their living room rug, basking in the sunlight with a pile of books or digging in the garden with our neighbor. This co-living made it easy to say yes to an arrangement with my parents.

My extended family had also set an example. At the time we moved, my grandparents were living in an apartment attached to my uncle’s home in North Newton, Kan., and had lived there for most of my cousins’ lives. We had lunch with my grandparents every week and frequently ate dinners with the whole family together. 

I wanted my children to know their great-grandparents, and it was delightful to see the generations connecting. 

My grandfather made up a game with my 4-year-old, rolling balls back and forth across the table, both of them chuckling. My grandmother encouraged my 8-year-old to help with preparing a meal, something he was happy to do. 

Both grandparents asked thoughtful questions about school and friends and activities, encouraging my children to talk and play and romp freely.

And so, with this personal and family background, we joyfully moved into our section of my parents’ home. 

Not everything was perfect, for sure. My parents, my husband and I had frequent meetings to talk about how things were going; we didn’t want simple annoyances to grow into arguments. My husband and I looked to my mom and dad to help with parenting; we didn’t want our children to play us off each other. 

And we had to put a stop to grandparent spoiling: My dad learned that if he took the children out for a bedtime ice cream run, he was then in charge of getting the sugar-hyped kids to sleep. 

But my parents quickly adjusted. They gave my children opportunities I likely would never have given: boldly teaching them to paint walls by handing them a paint-filled roller, safely instructing on the best methods for building a campfire, doubling up on the riding lawnmower, creating intricately designed pancakes with squirt bottles, plus seemingly endless patience for childhood shenanigans, storytelling and book-reading. 

My parents helped us all remember the joyful moments of living with small children.

I am part of Mennonite Health Fellowship’s Five Life Standards Nurture Council, a group that is meeting to discuss the Five Life Standards as set out by Doris Janzen Longacre, author of the More-with-Less cookbook, figuring out how we can incorporate them into our lives and the work of Mennonite Health Fellowship. 

“Nonconforming freely” is one of these beautiful standards — one that our family took particular joy in during our time with intergenerational life. 

Nonconforming freely allowed us to say yes to a move across country to an uncertain job, because parents and grandparents were there to welcome us. 

Nonconforming freely gave us energy for conversations about space, parenting styles and kitchen space. 

Nonconforming freely took the image of a pedicab, which my husband used to bicycle our children across town to the bus stop and which my grandmother relished riding in as well.

Nonconforming freely allowed us in the three-generation household to welcome my grandparents in when their home had flooding. For almost a month, we squashed four generations under one roof. 

By the end, we were all ready to get back to our normal setup — and my grandfather was done eating “so much rice” — but we had incredible moments during that time: my 90-year-old grandfather exploring a newly built Lego van with my 8-year-old, dinner conversations about my grandparents’ restoration work after World War II, four generations of quilters and quick middle-generation collaboration to make the bathroom safe for octogenarians. 

None of us has forgotten the frustrations of those weeks, but we have also not forgotten the delight that blossomed when we were all in that space together.

We lived with my parents for two and a half years; we left because a job called. But it was hard to leave. 

We moved into a traditional single-family home, losing something in the transition. We’ve found other ways to nonconform freely, but I miss the joy in the intergenerational household. 

My children are teenagers now, but they remember those days with fondness: a time surrounded by adults who cherished and challenged them, who read them stories, who laughed with them, who valued them.
They have a connection to my grandparents, who have since passed away, that they would never have had without those years. 

I am deeply grateful for the gift that intergenerational living was for me and my family.

Rachel Eash-Scott is a family physician living in Wauwatosa, Wis. She’s the mother of two teenage sons and attends Milwaukee Mennonite Church.

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