Better Together


 To Rebecca Durlin Smith, it made perfect sense.

She and her husband, Kevin Smith, needed a tenant for the studio behind their San Leandro, California, home. Her father, Dave Durlin, needed a new adventure.


Rebecca and Kevin were pregnant, everybody got along. Why not try it?

Rebecca recalls campaigning hard for cohabitation.

“You’re retired, you’re single, no strings attached,” she told her father. “It seemed like, ‘Come on!’”

Dave, however, required convincing.

“After a kid has left for a number of years, they have their own life and likes and dislikes, and I didn’t want to intrude on their lifestyle,” he says.


Halfway through Rebecca’s pregnancy, Dave saw the light, packed up his cat and relocated to the studio.

Seven years, two kids and one move to Portland later, they’re still together.

What’s the formula for successfully combining three generations? For starters, this family says, you’ve got to actually like each other. And you’ve got to set ground rules.

Ground rule one: Give each other space. This is easier in the family’s current Southwest Portland home, purchased in 2015, whose bottom floor is a 1,200-square-foot apartment. But it’s still close quarters.

“At the other place, our backyard was his front yard,” says Rebecca. “The yard is bigger here, but our floor is his ceiling.”

Everybody tries to check with Grandpa before dropping in (though usually only Kevin remembers), dinners are communal and Grandpa watches the kids at predetermined times.

“It’s about communication and setting clear expectations,” says Kevin.

Ground rule two: Be respectful and truthful. “We have a close relationship in terms of valuing honesty,” says Dave. “One of the things I tried to teach the girls was it matters how you treat people; that includes family, too.”

Ground rule three: Keep things changeable. Each spring, the family gathers for an “annual review,” says Rebecca: “We’re very much into equity, making sure everyone feels clear about the arrangements.”

Their arrangement evolves as as the kids grow — Aesten’s now 6 ½, and Aria’s 4 ½ — and it must accommodate daily unpredictability, too: Kevin works in fine dining, which means late nights, and Rebecca’s a birth doula at Brave Birth, so she must be ready to get up and go 24-7.

That puts Grandpa Dave on call, too, which he admits can be challenging: “It demands a certain amount of flexibility on everyone’s part, including the children.”

Still, Dave says he takes pride in watching his daughter meet the demands of career and family: “She has grown into a very fine person. A regular parent that didn’t have daily contact with her wouldn’t see all of that.”

For other families considering a multigenerational setup, Aesten has one suggestion: Go for it.

“I’d tell them [other families] to tell their grandparents to come over to their house and live there,” he says.

And Grandpa Dave’s apartment is ADA compliant, which means he’s set up to stay on forever, if he so chooses.

That prospect makes his upstairs neighbors very happy.

“This is ‘’till death do us part,’” says Rebecca.

Editor’s Note: With the rapidly changing housing market in the metro area, we’ve shifted the focus of our real estate column from examining a family’s home-buying journey to looking at the creative ways families are setting up households to meet the challenges of the Portland region’s housing scene. Do you have a story to tell about making a home in Portland? Get in touch at

Erin J Bernard
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