Supporting three generations. Stuck in the Middle. By Shelley Abreu for


Five years ago, my husband and I were just starting out. We lived in a small apartment just outside of Boston. We had good jobs. I worked as a technical writer, and my husband had just started flying with the military. We had no debt, and no children. We were saving aggressively but also enjoying our single life. On our days off, we would ride the subway into the city and eat at the best places in town. Later on in the evening, we’d sit on the couch in our underwear and eat the leftovers. Life was perfect.

Then one morning my cell phone rang. My father had experienced a heart attack. Three days later, he died, leaving my mother with a sizable mortgage, a small pile of debt, and no life or health insurance. She tried selling the house, but she wasn’t able to get an offer for the amount she needed to pay off her mortgage and buy something affordable. Without a job or any real professional skills, she couldn’t earn enough to make a substantial difference in her finances. Suddenly, our roles were reversed. I was now the one who needed to look out for my mother.

Several months later, my husband and I bought her 1,700-square-foot, two-bedroom house. My dad had partially renovated the old 1930s building before he died, but it still needed a lot of work. The roof was leaking, and there were termites eating through the support beams in the basement crawl space. Those repairs had to wait, though, becuase we used most of our savings, along with a home equity loan, to build a detached in-law apartment for my mother. This gave us enough room in the main house so we could start our family. We had two daughters in a row. They now share the large bedroom upstairs.

Then, last month, we brought home a new baby, a boy, and it hit home just what a tight spot we’re all in. With three children ages four, two and four weeks, a ninety-five pound golden retriever, my husband, myself, and my sixty-one-year-old mother, things certainly feel cramped. The new baby is sleeping with us in our bedroom. When he gets older, he’ll move to a fifty-square-foot room that now serves as an office space.

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