My sister-in-law uses an app to track and plan the baby’s meals and naps, and soon we all realigned our days to his schedule. My mother-in-law took on the bulk of the child-care duties while my sister-in-law worked remotely with patients; my husband, father-in-law, and I pitched in throughout the day, playing with the baby and helping during snack time; I cooked dinner for the family when the baby’s mom and grandma gave him his pre-bed bath.
We are no longer three independent family units doing three different sets of the same chores, nor are we roommates who share space without sharing lives. Each week, one person goes on a grocery trip to buy food for the entire house, our clothes are mixed up in the same loads of laundry, we wash one another’s dirty dishes. With our conjoined schedules and shared domestic duties, work and other obligations flow around established “family time” instead of the other way around.
This arrangement has clearly helped my sister-in-law. At her home, even with her husband there to offset the load, she’d be weighed down by chores and child-rearing, while falling behind at her job and losing sleep. Since she arrived, she has been able to rest and accomplish more at work, and she looks noticeably happier and more relaxed. Meanwhile, my nephew has sprouted six new teeth, and he broke his personal record for minutes napped in a single afternoon. My in-laws have embraced lockdown grandparenthood, and haven’t spoken one wistful word about their active life before the coronavirus took it all away. As for me, I may have lost some of the independence I once had, but every day I see proof that we can rely on one another without trying to control one another.
My day may now include more variables than before, but somehow it is simpler. While I used to be more spontaneous, I often packed too much into my schedule and did everything in a hurry. Considering the family’s needs on a whole, instead of just my own, surprised me with the satisfaction it yielded. These days, I carefully plan a week’s worth of meals for five people, play with the baby every day, have long conversations around the dinner table, and go on regular hikes with my husband.
Integrating into the rhythm of this bustling household means I can’t waste a day “doomscrolling” on my phone and subsisting entirely off of soda and nibbles of chips and hummus. My family depends on me to do my part, and in a way, this life is not so different from the partnership I treasure with my husband. Our arrangement is going so well that I’m no longer so reluctant to have a baby, and I’m even thinking of asking my parents to live with us if we do. As much as I thought that joining a multifamily household would be cumbersome, what I discovered instead is balance. Despite the stress and uncertainty brought on by this virus, we are, inexplicably, happy.