With an English nuclear family upbringing, Ian Rose never imagined he'd be home-sharing with the olds. But that was before he got together with a Vietnamese woman, whose folks are waiting in the wings.
Ian Rose

14 Jun 2016 - 11:11 AM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2016 - 11:19 AM

Of course, I had no idea at the time what I was letting myself in for.

Had it been pointed out to me that, in starting a family with a woman of Vietnamese heritage, I was effectively signing up to someday share my home with her parents, I may have backed out of the deal.

Don’t get me wrong - they’re terrific people, my in-laws, especially when they’re babysitting. It’s just that, as an Anglo and the product of an atomised society, I’ve never been conditioned for this whole multi-generational living scene.

Most of my grandparents either died before I was born or when I was still quite young. By my mid-teens only my step-grandmother remained alive, a formidable and determined woman who looked after herself at home until she died in her 90s.

My stepfather would return from his weekly Sunday morning visits looking even more vexed and drained than usual, and her moving in with us never came up.

Evidently that’s not the way things are done in an Asian family. At the moment, my in-laws are shacked up with my partner’s paternal grandparents and auntie, but that’s not going to last forever.

I’ve been warned that we’ll be expected to do our bit, that the payback bill for all this babysitting is already in the post.

So recently I’ve taken to enjoying long baths, wandering around the house naked in their aftermath, and indulging in various other acts of depravity that are the perks of privacy, while I still can.

And I’m going to treat our imminent trip to Vietnam, a family holiday with kids, in-laws and all, as a practice run for the crowded life to come.

The Vietnamese paterfamilias gig, from where I’m sitting, looks pretty sweet, a snug fit for my own future dotage.

Because I’m now resolved to embrace this multi-gen living model, destined as I am to be a practitioner. With the aged care time-bomb ticking away, it’s the sustainable choice for our advanced society, after all, and one that statistics suggest supports longevity, as poisoned a chalice as that may be.

It’s got to make for more closely integrated communities, the young and the old under the same roof, beside better understanding across the generations, or at least that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself.

Plus, what goes around comes around, right? If my children grow up with the shining example of elders being looked after in the home, surely they’ll be more likely to welcome me into the ample, plush bosoms of their own families than to shuffle me off to the sterile consigns of a retirement village or home, with all of its grisly ramifications - which may well have been my lot if I’d procreated with some other Anglo...

The Vietnamese paterfamilias gig, from where I’m sitting, looks pretty sweet, a snug fit for my own future dotage.

My octogenarian grandfather-in-law cuts a barely animate figure and is never called upon to speak, but still gets to eat his dinner before anyone else.

On special occasions, such as the lunar new year, he is required to sit in the middle of the room, beside his hunched and smiling wife, while a parade of great-grandchildren passes before them, to extend their best wishes and their little red envelope-hungry paws.

Then come the grandchildren (including me and my partner - I mumble the few words of Vietnamese I’ve been coached on, and try to meet his eye, though I’m never sure if he’s awake), and finally their own offspring.

Future perfect

I’m up for those kinds of duties, in return for a roof over my head, a nice bit of deference and the table to myself at mealtimes, thanks very much.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to carry off the dignity of inscrutable silence, though. As an old man, I see myself more as your foul-mouthed ranter type, growing more cantankerous and whiffy with every passing year.

Yes, that’s the vision I cherish of my twilight years. Sitting pretty (OK, not so pretty), beside my still adoring (possibly deranged) partner, being humoured in my distemper by a multitude of respectful grandchildren.

Of course, its realisation kind of depends on our kids ever being able to afford to leave home and start families of their own, but, hey, let’s not go there just yet...

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