Skip to main content

This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Amplify and all Globe newsletters here.

Merita Ilo is Weekend Editor at The Globe and Mail.

When I was growing up in 1970s Albania, multigenerational homes were the norm. Most families didn’t send their youngest to daycare – that’s what grandmothers were for – and when the children were old enough to go to kindergarten, grandparents were on “Uber” duty, ferrying the kids back and forth on foot, while both parents were at work.

Seniors’ homes did not exist. There was no need for them since families looked after their elders until they took their last breath. Failing to do so would bring lasting shame. And in a small country (population 2.1 million at the time) where people didn’t have much, a good name was everything.

I was nine years old when my paternal grandmother first taught me how to make her Turkish coffee. The trick, she explained, was knowing when there was just enough foam. (It was an art I never mastered.) When I was 10, she taught me how to make yogurt: boil the milk until your pinkie can’t stand the heat, stir in a spoonful of yogurt, cover the lidded container with a woolen (not cotton) blanket and let it rest for about 12 hours. (I only retired the woolen-blanket method three years ago when I bought an Instant Pot.)

I learned how to knit from my maternal grandmother, who lived in southern Albania – across from Corfu, Greece – and where my cousins and I spent every summer holiday. She had the most beautiful terraced garden where she grew every fruit and vegetable you could possibly grow under the southern Balkan sun.

I often share those stories with my daughters – Kristiana, who was eight when we moved to Canada, and Sophie, who was born in Toronto in 2005 – the only “real Canadian” in the family, as she likes to tease her older sister.

As a mother, I feel guilty that our decision to move to “the other side of the sun” – as my own mother calls it – deprived my daughters of growing up surrounded by the constant presence of their loving grandmothers – strong, resourceful women who made do with very little and who loved their families fiercely.

I try to make up for it by taking them to Greece, where my mother – their only living grandparent – lives with my brother and his family, as often as possible. They talk to her on the phone every Saturday (Sophie’s broken Albanian cracks my mother up every time.) “It takes a village to help raise a child,” people say, and when you become an immigrant, you leave your “village” behind.

On Aug. 9, it’ll be 20 years since we landed at Toronto’s Pearson airport. Over the years, we’ve managed to build a new “village” for our daughters. While there was no grandmother nearby to pick them up from school or teach them how to make Turkish coffee, strangers we met along the way have become trusted family friends with whom we celebrate the holidays or mourn the loss of a loved one back home.

A former neighbour who 18 years ago took an interest in a young family from a country she’d never heard of, has become a grandmother figure that showers our daughters with love and support – and the occasional freshly baked biscotti. (Thank you, Hershi!) I’ve tried to teach my daughters some of the skills I learned from my grandmothers. For others, they turn to YouTube.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to rely on each other and the people around us for care and support. It also exposed some of the weaknesses of our global society, with loneliness and isolation wreaking havoc among seniors and young adults.

The search for solutions has sparked some creative ideas, including alternative housing models such as co-housing, where residents ranging in age from newborn to 80, from Gen-Xers with kids, to singles, new retirees and seniors, live in buildings designed to draw them together.

One such building opened in Vancouver in March, 2021.

“We’re actually going backwards in time,” Jack Brondwin, the driving force behind the project, told Globe reporter Zosia Bielski. “Co-housing is reverting back to the model we used to have, where our elders were supported within the family, within community.”

Multigenerational living (three or more generations living together) has also become more commonplace since the pandemic. According to Statistic Canada, it is the fastest-growing housing demographic. The number is higher among Indigenous and immigrant families, which are more likely to include a grandparent or two under the same roof.

My own grandparents died in their 80s and 90s, at home, surrounded by their loved ones. Their funerals were family gatherings where women would cry, men would smoke and children would run around doing what children do.

It’s how it should be, says my own mother, who turned 80 earlier this year.

What else we’re thinking about:

I know I’m late to jump on the bandwagon, but I recently watched the Netflix series Drive to Survive, which offers unprecedented access into the world of Formula One racing. I binge-watched the first four seasons with my teen daughter – neither of us knowing anything about F1 before the show. Now, we’re both F1 fans and experts.

We know all the drivers’ names and nationalities. We both love Daniel Ricciardo, the Italian-Aussie driver who’s become the F1′s funny man. And, of course, Toto Wolff. We text each other video clips from the races and tweets from the drivers. And we can’t wait for the fifth and sixth seasons to be released.

Who would have thought…

Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at