Adrian and Ron are both 71. Her mother, Lillian, is 90. Grandson Joey – “our gift,” Adrian says – is 13. The Charniaks also take care of Ron’s mother, Alvina, 89, who lives three miles away. Adrian volunteers – spending much of her time coordinating a regional grandparents support group she started six years ago – and sings in her church choir.
We became a multigenerational household when my father passed away 13 years ago, which left Mom living alone in a very bad neighborhood. After her house was broken into, Ron said she had to come live with us. Then our son lived with us. And Joey has lived with us for 12 years.
Joey is our gift. Neither of his parents could really care for him. We didn’t want to see him go to foster care. So we pulled up our suspenders and went to court. I made every court appearance –more than 100 of them – to make sure he’d be able to stay with us. I had a pension, but I spent it all on court costs. He’s worth it! I now depend on my Social Security check every month to help us raise Joey and care for my mother.
Joey calls me “Babi” – that’s Czech for “grandma.” And he calls my mom “Double Babi.” The other day he got up early, and then he came in and told me, “Babi, I made the coffee, fed the dog, fed the cat, and brought in the paper. You’ve got an easy day today!” Joey goes to a good school in a wonderful school system. Now he’s getting all A’s…mostly!
About six years ago we started a grandparents support group. We call it the Gift of Hope. It’s named after the organ donor group. My son was an organ donor. One day, I was talking with another grandmother about how our grandchildren are the gift. “And we’re the hope,” she said.
We have 178 families in the group now. People come to our meetings from all over –not just the Chicago area. We find out what they need –shoes, clothing, a bed, school supplies –and we try to help them. Then they form friendships. It’s people helping people.
We have friends who are retired who are always telling me about their next cruise to Hawaii or wherever. I tell them I go on cruises every day. I cruise to school, I cruise to the mall, I cruise to the doctor’s office, I cruise to the skateboarding park. Joey’s my cruise to Hawaii, and you know what? I wouldn’t trade my cruise for theirs.
To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.