Kelly: Grand life for some is generations together -
Published Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:56 pm
National Grandparents Day
Kelly: Grand life for some is generations together

Today is National Grandparents Day, and Paul Nelson of Omaha thinks his three-generation living arrangement is just grand.

Grandpa and grandkids under the same roof?

“It's great, it really is,” said physician Paul, who lives with his daughter and her family, including his grandsons, 4 and 2. “When I leave in the morning, they often want a hug. It's pretty endearing.”

Of course, when “the usual craziness that goes with their ages” occurs, Mom and Dad can handle that.

For most of us who reach grandparenthood — my wife and I have four children and eight grandchildren — it's a wonderful time of life.

Sure, people joke that grandkids are our revenge on our children. But most grandparents enjoy doting on their grandkids.

Then again, if grandchildren cry or bicker too much, we can look at our watches and say, “Wow, look at the time! So sorry we have to leave.”

But for an increasing number of grandparents, there is no leaving — unless it's to another part of the house.

A new study of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center shows that more than 7 million grandparents in the United States are living with a grandchild. That's an increase of 22 percent from 2000, when fewer than 6 million grandparents did so.

Put another way: In 2011, about 7.7 million children in America — 1 in 10 — were living with a grandparent. That's up from about 6.3 million in 2000.

Pew said both numbers rose rapidly after the onset of the recession and have stabilized since 2009, when the recession officially ended.

So in some cases, consolidating generations under one roof was a financial necessity. In others, it was a choice.

That was the case with Dr. Nelson's family. He had casually mentioned that since his wife died, he didn't need all the space in the Country Club neighborhood home where they had lived since 1975.

A month later, daughter Erin and husband Nate Bock asked about the possibility of moving in with him in the 1927 house where she had grown up. Paul was open to the idea, but first they sat down and tried to think everything through.

They came up with a plan.

He would live in the previously remodeled basement studio apartment, with a bedroom, a three-quarters bathroom and a mini-kitchen. Family members would always knock on his door before entering.

All would share the living room, dining room and kitchen on the main floor. Paul would respect the privacy of their upstairs rooms.

Plumbing was updated, and they would share utility costs. And then there was home maintenance.

“Part of our convenant,” Paul said, “is that I do the outside work in the summertime, which gives me a source of exercise, and they help. In return, they do the winter work outside.”

Trends in American couples and families continue to evolve, as my fellow World-Herald columnists have written recently.

Matthew Hansen, 33, married with no children, wrote about the increase in child-free couples. Erin Grace, 40, married and the mother of three, wrote that in spite of that trend, four out of five women have given birth by their mid-40s.

At 64, I noted that National Grandparents Day, proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, was sneaking up on us — yet still unknown to many people.

One who was well aware of it, though, was Alexis Nietfeldt, 38, married and the mother of a 2-year-old son. Through her UPS shipping stores, she has seen lots of activity in recent days.

“Families come in sending gifts to grandparents,” he said. “Lots of pictures and artwork.”

Alexis and brother Nathan Becerra were raised not by their parents but by their grandparents, the result of a tragedy.

When she was 10 weeks old and Nathan was 16 months, their parents were killed on Interstate 480 in Omaha. A driver who had been drinking crossed the median and struck their car.

Nathan Becerra Sr. was 24, intent on becoming a certified public accountant; his wife, Debra, was 23, working at ConAgra. Their deaths left the community heartsick.

The children's paternal grandparents, Herb and Dolores Becerra of Council Bluffs, who had been looking toward retirement, suddenly became parents again — responsible for raising a toddler and an infant to adulthood.

“They did a great job,” said the younger Nathan Becerra, now 39, married and the father of four. “They weren't able to spoil us or do the things grandparents typically do.

“They were disciplinarians, very strict. No sugar cereals. We always had meals at home. They made sure we got our homework done.”

Nathan, who lives in Bellevue and works for Mutual of Omaha, said he and Alexis called their grandparents “Mom” and “Dad,” but they learned early in life about their parents. They still visit their gravesites.

Families do what they need to do. Dolores, called “Lola,” quit her 17-year job at Western Electric to focus on the children. Herb continued working as a mail carrier, retiring not at 55 as planned but at 62. The couple abandoned their idea of moving to a warm-weather state.

Herb told me in 1984 that he originally just wanted to see the kids grow up and graduate from high school, but then “got greedy” and wanted to see great-grandchildren.

He did so, with Nathan's older children. Then he wanted to attend Alexis' wedding.

But in 2010, Herb died of cancer two days before she married. Nathan walked his sister down the aisle.

Dolores, who missed out on being a grandma when thrust anew into the role of mother, is a doting grandmother after all. The family would say a “great” grandmother. “The kids all call me 'Nana,' except for the youngest, who says 'Narnie,' ” Dolores said. “The oldest remembers 'Papa' so well and writes letters to him in heaven.”

Dolores thinks of Debra and Nathan Sr., who should be enjoying grandparenthood. He would have turned 63 this fall.

Their deaths took years off her life, she said, but she knows that other families suffer tragedies, too. “I don't compare,” she said. “Everybody has their own way of mourning.”

As for her role as grandmother-turned-mother to Nathan and Alexis, she always has asked herself, “Did I hug 'em enough? Did I kiss 'em enough?”

She is proud of the adults they became.

“At least they are happy, that's the most important thing,” Dolores said. “The children are all healthy. What more can you ask for?”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

Teen who worked as a cook is killed in shooting at Benson's Gallagher Park
Sweet deal on suite use has MECA board looking at written rules
Finally. Spring expected to return, stick around. No, really: Warmer-than-average weather in forecast
Home alone: When burglar broke in, 12-year-old locked herself in bathroom, called 911
City Council OKs redevelopment plan for north downtown project
Inmate accused of partially tearing off another's testicles charged with assault
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
Lawyer: Man had right to hand out religious fliers outside Pinnacle Bank Arena
Firefighters put out duplex blaze in N.W. Omaha
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
Coffee with a Cop set for Thursday in Benson
In TV ad, Shane Osborn says Ben Sasse 'beholden to Washington'
Douglas County offices accepting credit, debit cards
Ben Sasse raises more money than U.S. Senate foes Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale
Parched Omaha soil soaks up record precipitation
Engineering student harnesses girl power, starts engineering-science club at Gomez Elementary
WB Dodge Street lane closed
Ex-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub endorses Shane Osborn for U.S. Senate seat
New Doane College program promises free tuition for first class
No more last-minute hiring of Omaha Public Schools teachers
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Lunar eclipse was visible in the Omaha area
2 arrested in west Omaha hotel TV thefts
You can tape a cable TV access show at new city-built studio in Omaha
< >
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Breaking Brad: Next year, Bo Pelini brings a mountain lion to the spring game
Before the spring game, Bo Pelini carried a cat onto the field. With Bo's personality, it'd have been more appropriate for him to carry a mountain lion.
Breaking Brad: Bo Pelini's cat lets spring game intro go to its head
Coach Bo Pelini took the field before the spring game holding a cat aloft. Typical cat. He was undoubtedly thinking, “Sixty thousand people, all cheering for me!”
Kelly: 3 former Nebraskans all take seats at the table of international diplomacy
Three former residents of the Cornhusker State are working together at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and one took part in a recent high-level meeting about Ukraine.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
$25 for a $50 gift card to use at Schweser's!
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »