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.

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