Four Generations in the Same Room

Over the weekend, my parents went out to dinner with my grandmother, all her kids, and the spouses to celebrate an upcoming birthday. During dinner, my 91-year-old grandmother lamented that none of her grandchildren have gotten married or had children yet. We range from ages 18 to 34 and, since my cousin passed from cancer at age 30, I’m now the eldest of the bunch.

Of the nine grandchildren, four are in long-term relationships. To each of her children, she asked, “When is so-and-so going to get married?”

Though I’ve been with my partner for nearly 10 years and we would love to get married, we can’t. He’s disabled and vocational rehabilitation is willing to pay for his education. Were we to marry, that $200,000 burden would fall on me. We can’t afford for him to start his career at age 48 with student debt and no retirement. As for kids, extended mold exposure can cause infertility, so it may or may not be in the cards for us, even with support from my parents.

My younger sister, age 28, has been with her boyfriend for about four years. They’re both social butterflies, attending several weddings per year, but I have no idea if they have any intention of tying the knot themselves. They’ve made it clear that they don’t want kids.

My cousin, age, 33, has been with his girlfriend for about two years and they’re talking about a courthouse wedding or elopement. My cousin is in the special forces and being deployed overseas again. Circumstances aren’t optimal for a big wedding or babies.

Another cousin, age 31, has been with his girlfriend for about two years. She desperately wants to be married, but he has made it clear that he will never propose. His parents had a rocky relationship, which was unhealthy for their four boys. Marriage, in his eyes, is a death trap. Children are the nail in the coffin. He’s jaded, and won’t be tied down. His three younger brothers all feel the same way.

We all have our reasons. None, really, are negotiable.

My heart aches for my grandma. She wants so badly to meet the next generation. Yet, there is a very real chance there may not be a next generation. Whether due to fertility, financials, or cynicism, marriage and children are not givens in the way that they once were.

I recently read an article that claims that over half of married women have a ‘backup husband’ in mind. While I don’t know the demographics of those taking the survey, I have several acquaintances who were going through marriage counseling when, one day. their wife moved in with the new boyfriend, filed for divorce, and claimed the kids and alimony. That is to say, I don’t blame men for being hesitant to marry. In divorce proceedings, the women nearly always wins. And that’s after navigating a relationship with one foot in and one foot out. The idea of commitment has been replaced by the notion of keeping one’s options open. I don’t think any relationship can survive that.

I hope that my grandmother is around long enough to see my boyfriend and I start a family–if all goes well, in 2 to 4 years–and get married–in 5-6 years. If not us, a sibling or cousin. I hope she gets to experience four generations in the same room. As the matriarch of the family, I hope that she can have the confidence that the family line will go on, even if it’s just one or two small streams deviating from the racing rapids.

25 thoughts on “Four Generations in the Same Room

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  1. I understand how your grandmother feels. It seems everyone around me has grandchildren and I don’t know if it’s in the cards for us. My son turned 30 in March. He’s been with his girlfriend for nine years and she’s 37. They are finally talking about marriage, but not sure about kids. My daughter is 27 single and working on her own happiness and health. I grew up in a small town north of Seattle. Many in my high school got married right after graduation and had kids within a year or two. It’s different now.

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  2. I agree with Elizabeth’s thoughts…my heart aches for your grandma but I find the same…”children” who are the age you are, Erin, or Elizabeth’s kids…like my dear daughter…have good reasons about decisions to have children, or not, and for some it’s not a conscious thought…there’s just so much OTHER for everyone to tend to (as you know only too well, Erin). I bet your bright spirit and loving ways fill your grandma up in other ways…I feel like an old timer saying this…LOL…but things ARE different these days. Hugs! 🥰

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    1. You make such a great point, Vicki — I do think a lot of the “choice” to delay things is actual circumstances, some of which we don’t have all that much control over. You’re too kind! I do try to be a bright spot in my grandma’s life… you have me thinking that maybe I should start the conversation that we’re *hoping* to start a family and start asking what family names she would pick and stories she would tell…. let her partake in some of the pre-great-grandbaby antics. I bet that would be meaningful to her… and special for me. Big hugs back! 🥰

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      1. I love that idea…and I hope you’ve been able to be candid with her about your health odyssey…so she has as much of your context as possible. You are so incredibly dear. I bet she loves you to bits! 🥰

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  3. It’s always sad to see people who don’t want marriage or children because they think it will be the same as their parents or that it will fail. Marriage to a good person is wonderful, and children are a fun and messy and wonderful blessing, too. My upbringing was horrible, and yet I’ve broken every statistic by merely trying: graduation, college, marriage, children, travel, etc.

    I can’t imagine being on my deathbed and thinking, “I didn’t do XYZ because I was afraid it would fail, so I didn’t even try.”

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    1. Yes, I also feel sad for people who have given up on love before even trying. Having a wonderful partner is the greatest gift in the world–everything else could go wrong, but life is still good when you have one another. I’m so proud of you, Yari, for overcoming all of the barriers that stood in your way. As you point out, often simple merely trying is enough… I wish more people would be willing to just try.

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  4. While I understand the perspectives presented both in your post and the comments so far Erin I am going to toss in my POV as a mom and grandma. I have 3 kids who watched their dad and I stay in a horrible relationship for too long. I married NEVER thinking I would divorce. The kids are now all married with amazing partners that I hope are choices for life. I have 2 grands as you know. I feel confident there will be no more and I accept that given the personal reasons the other two couples have cited.

    I know for someone older there is the expectation that families will carry on, that the values and beliefs are passed down, that life will continue as it always has, and your grandma is very much a part of that generation who embraces that belief system so I understand her thoughts. I am on the fringes of her side, yet also near enough to the changes that my own kids generation (which is yours as well) have to deal with, question and decide on for themselves. So what I’m saying is that I totally get the perspectives your younger family faces.

    Grandma will never change at this point and while it is hard to hear her wishes, the younger family has to do what makes sense for them. Becoming a grandparent, or great gp is wonderful but we delude ourselves by believing that is what our children want simply because we wish it were so. I love my grands but I love my kids and also respect their ability to know themselves. I would wish that every parent my age would take a moment to reflect on the ramifications of pressing their younger family members to fulfill their desires and caution them to perhaps simply accept that their families will look a little different from the traditional ones that even my grandma knew.

    I hope that makes sense as I don’t want to offend anyone or minimize their feelings. There just simply is a new reality for people who are approaching or already in the marriage/childbearing time of life and it is not necessarily what my generation or those before me were told was the correct way to live. I think we as Boomers and above would be wise to listen, learn and accept that things have changed.

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    1. Deb, I truly appreciate your balanced perspective and wisdom here. I can also understand both sides. When I was young, I wanted kids. When I had to support myself in the real world, I realized it was absolutely not feasible financially and put the idea on the back burner. Now that I’m secure in a career with a reasonable income, the desire for kids has returned. I think everyone within my generation is faced with a similar situation–we want stability (home, partner, income, support network) and it’s increasingly difficult to achieve any single one of those items, let alone all.

      You made me think of something my grandma said back in the 90s. A second cousin had gotten pregnant out of wedlock and my grandma told my mom, “The times change. This is what people do nowadays.” I think she understands, though I’m sure it’s still hard. I do think it would be great if everyone could step back to listen, learn and accept that things have changed.


      1. Sometimes independence may be overrated/overblown especially when it prevents community/family formation/coupling/children. Though there is also validity to the Rugged Individualist/American Dream of Carving Out Your Own Destiny.

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  5. What a fascinating look at the larger patterns within your family, Erin! We’ve traded comments about my dad and daughter meeting in transition so I think there’s definitely room to believe that even if your grandmother doesn’t get to meet the next generation in person, there’s still a legacy and other knowing that can happen. Fingers crossed that generational goodness continues… ❤

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    1. I love that thought, Wynne! Such a lovely thought! 💕 Vicki’s comment got me thinking that it may be worth opening up a conversation with my grandma about special family names, stories, and other things that she would hope to pass along. It may scratch the itch for her, but also be meaningful for me. 🥰

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  6. I can understand your grandmother’s feelings – it’s a conversation we always hear in family gatherings too. Ultimately though, times are different today and people have differing priorities. I do hope that your hopes and dreams happen in your timeline and in a way that your grandmother can experience it too! 🙏

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    1. Thank you, Ab! “I do hope that your hopes and dreams happen in your timeline and in a way that your grandmother can experience it too!” This made my heart soar!! I hope so too!! 🙏

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  7. Declining birthrates around the world are alarming many people, yet, for too long generations of people were pressured into getting married and having kids, because it was what one was expected to do. Now people are realizing they have other choices and are happy to live their lives how they wish.

    While this means that some people won’t become grandparents, I applaud people’s decisions, because we had too many people living lives of quiet desperation feeling trapped, or they became abusive towards their spouse and kids because the resentment was too overpowering, or they numbed out with drugs and/or alcohol, creating damage to those relationships.

    Too many people and families are living with the emotional, physical even the sexual fallout of those old expectations.

    If we are to become emotionally and physically healthy as a society, we need to be able to continue to make those important decisions for ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a great point, Tamara. Marriage and children are choices, and it’s important to respect that everyone has the right to choose differently. I’ve seen many broken homes that came out following the “normal” life trajectory, when it wasn’t what someone wanted.

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      1. Yes, and the people who are changing those narratives are the ones more likely than not who are choosing not to have kids. If they had li ed in earlier times they’d have made the same choices if they had been able to. Having a healthier world means that things are going to shift.

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      2. The rejection of childbirth is counter-productive when so many folks have lost touch on what it means to be in a relationship/date/marriage/coupling/etc. Choice itself like Democracy can be an illusion with controlled opposition on both sides. Family and children are the ancestors reborn/memory/cultural wellspring retained. Choice, tolerance of cultural/spiritual erosion, liberation from responsibility, and endless freedoms to spit on forebears/the nation and the whole consumerism/globalism ideologies divert/distract folks from who they are/where they came from/etc.

        The contract of marriage/ceremony over coupling need not be a bureaucratic legal jargon diatribe, rather a cultural yet informal event.

        Not everyone [probably more now than in the past] are ready or willing to couple, marry, or even have children though that doesn’t mean their “choice” is valid. A dead end is not something I would ever strive for.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. In my personal experience, I do agree that people have lost touch on what it means to be in a relationship, etc. I’ve read research on pair bonding in humans and the modern norms don’t support lasting relationships, nor deep trust. Also, with so many working mothers, family dysfunctions, and dispersed relatives, memories of the past and the sense of connection to our ancestors are lost in the jumble.

        When I was young, I wanted a family; by the time I finished college, I wanted a career. In some ways, I feel that I was bamboozled into thinking paying taxes was more important than raising a family. It’s not too late for me, but I’m disappointment that I fell for that messaging. While I’m not sure if it’s my place to judge, I’ve come to believe–personally–that I don’t want to be the dead of my family lineage. Great thoughts–thank you!

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