Meet Catherine Ouellet-Cummings who lives with her partner and her son in a duplex in a suburb of Montreal. Not only do the two of them work from home (they publish their own children’s magazine and do graphic design work), but Catherine’s mother lives in the apartment above them. Work, family and grandma all under one roof! It seems like it could be complicated, but Catherine and her partner are thriving and making life happen. Welcome, Catherine.
My name is Catherine Ouellet-Cummings. I’m 33 and I live with my partner, Julien, and our 10 year-old son, Henri. We live in a duplex that we bought together with my mom. She lives in the apartment on the second floor but we almost live together, as we see each other multiple times each day! We also have a rabbit named Sapin (as you may know, a rabbit in French is a “lapin” and “sapin” is a fir tree… not that our rabbit is named after a fir tree, but we played on the sound of both words for it’s name), and two fishes. Both of them have been fished by Henri.
Julien and I met in Cégep (a type of college in Quebec) at 17 years old (!). We had a video class together and we had to work together on a school project. “Had to” is the key word here: our teacher made us work together and I must confess that the first thing that I ever said to him was “Sorry, I know we don’t have any choice, but I really don’t want to work with you!” Still to this day, I don’t understand why he wasn’t angry about that, and soon enough we became very close friends and we fell in love pretty fast.
At 19 years old, we travelled a few months to Eastern Europe and to India, making little videos about what we saw that we sent back to the cégep. We didn’t really know then what we wanted to do job wise, but we knew that we wanted to work together. We founded our company, L’abricot, a graphic design, writing and printing studio, in 2007. Henri was born in 2008. Having a child changed the way we worked and the kind of projects we work on. In 2014, we created Grilled Cheese Magazine, a risograph printed bilingual (French and English) magazine for kids aged 2-4 years old and 5-10 years old, that we publish three times a year.
As for Henri, he is a charming, curious, intelligent and creative kid. He is really into music and he takes ukulele lessons. He reads a lot and he talks a lot. He has things to say on almost everything!
We live in Montreal, in Ville-Émard, a small neighbourhood in Le Sud-Ouest borough. It’s a neighbourhood that we didn’t know before moving in but that we learned to love. It is very kid and family friendly.
Although, we are at a walking distance from the Angrignon Park, which is a very big park with a small forest and a pond and from the Canal Lachine, on which we can also canoe, we can be in the city center in less than 20 minutes by metro, and we can easily get there by bike as well. The school is also just around the corner.
I have to admit that our neighbourhood is not the most lively one in Montreal, and I would not necessarily recommend a visit there on your first trip to the city, but it really is a great place to live. Although the prices of the houses are starting to climb (as it does everywhere, it seems), it was still affordable when we bought our house (around 400,000 Canadian dollars).
We were renters in another part of the city and our landlord wanted to sell the house we lived in. We knew we would have to move out sooner or later and, as we already had our studio in the basement, with our letterpress and our first risograph, we tried to look up for a new place rapidly in order to find something suitable before being forced to move out.
At the same time, my mother who lived in Montreal’s suburb, wanted to come back to the city where she was born, and the idea of living all together came up early and, I should say, quite effortlessly.
I didn’t enjoy at all the process of finding and buying the house. It was stressful and I had mixed feelings about moving to a new neighbourhood as I loved the one we were leaving, but once we found the house, all of that stress went away. We looked at about 10 houses before finding ours — one of my cousins had told me that once I would find the right house I would know. She was right!
The house was occupied by a whole family. The great-grand-mother lived on the first floor (where we live) with her daughter and her husband. Their daughter lived on the second floor with her two teens. They were all moving together somewhere else as we were moving in and the great-grand-mother told us that she was sad to sell her house where she had lived more than 50 years but happy that we bought it, so it was really heart-warming for us.
The house was in really good shape so we didn’t do a lot of renovations, except in the basement where we built our studio. We had to tear away the floor and the walls to create an open space and we opened up the staircase. In the kitchen, we wanted to open up the pantry and we discovered a magnificent brick chimney hidden inside the wall. We then chose to let it in plain view. We also did a bit of work in my mother’s apartment.
Julien likes to renovate the house (and he is really good at it) and we did most of the work together. He is a big fan of scavenging materials and he keeps a lot of things, so we were able to use old wood and old doors when we constructed the studio and the stairs. Same thing in my mother’s apartment, where we built a new wardrobe with some old wood that we found one morning on our way to our son’s school.
It is a fun, ecological and economical way to renovate a house. Plus, it is coherent with the architecture of the house and its story (it was built in the 1950s).
If you want to do the same, I suggest that you store your findings in an organised way, in order to be able to find quickly what you need. Also, always keep an open eye when you’re walking around your neighbourhood. You never know what treasure you can find!
I don’t think that living in a multi-generational home is very common in Montreal, but for us, it made sense. I should say that, before moving in together, my mother lived 20 minutes away from us and we saw each other almost every day and spoke on the phone every day. We always had a good relationship built on mutual respect and communication, and my partner felt the same way about my mother (they also used to speak on the phone almost everyday!).
We’ve been living together for four years now and we get along perfectly. The best part is that we have a lot of fun! We eat together 4-5 times a week, we do our grocery shopping together, we cook together… Plus, Henri has a very close and beautiful relationship with his grandmother, which is very moving to watch.
Working with Julien is almost always a lot of fun. I think that we work well together because our strengths are different and so is the work we do (he is a graphic designer and illustrator, and I work in texts and in project management).
The hardest part, but I guess that will apply to everyone working from home or as freelancers, is that it is almost impossible to let go of the job. It seems that there is always something to discuss or to do. We do talk about our work minutes before going to sleep! On the other hand, as we are both passionate about what we do, there are no frustrations there.
As for our parenting style, working from home together allows both of us to have a lot of time with our son (we often stop working when he comes home at around 3:45, but we start again when he goes to sleep), and he is really involved in what we do.
When he can, he comes with us to meet clients or to participate in fairs or launches. Being so close to the school also allows us to volunteer frequently at the school (we did screen printing and linocut printing workshops, we built benches for the schoolyard, and I volunteer in the school library), which is inspiring for us.
I would say that I am a good listener. I don’t take for granted that my son wants to talk to me and I cherish almost every second of it (remember that he speaks A LOT!). There is nothing more important to me than being able to be there for him and to listen to what he has to say.
I hope he remembers how simple and fun it is to live together and I hope that he remembers that meaningful relationships are based on respect and communication. I don’t want to sound cliché but there is nothing that I hope he forgets because everything is a part of life and we can learn from it, particularly from our mistakes.
I am not a nostalgic person (mainly because nostalgia makes me feel very depressed and I avoid the feeling whenever it’s possible), and I tend to look forward instead of looking back, so there are not really things, parenting-wise, that I miss already, as I feel that beautiful things are still coming up everyday.
My absolute favourite thing about living with my kid would be the opportunity to see him develop his identity. He is a big fan of playing music and that really comes from him. It is an honour to see him develop his talent and persevere in that field. I love to meet his friends and to see what he loves and what interests him.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that everything would work out fine when my son was a baby. I feel that I was stressed a lot and I would have loved to be more relaxed with him and to listen to my gut more. I feel that I chose to do some things based on what “should be” instead of what I felt would be the best.
But in the end, even if looking back I know I would have done things differently, it turned out fine. So, yeah, everything works out fine in the end.
Thank you, Catherine! You can tell a really creative family lives in this home. I love all of the art and art supplies and books everywhere. It feels like if you wanted to pull up a seat and work on something creative, everything you might need would be right at hand. It’s really inspiring and I am sure Henri is able to express his creativity in a lot of ways.
There is also something so inspiring about sharing a space with your Mother/Mother-In-Law. I think for some people it would never work. (Some of us might have better relationships with our parents when we see them less frequently.) But how wonderful for them that it does work. Henri gets to have a great relationship with his Grandma, and Catherine and Julien can share a bit of the burden of parenthood with someone they love and trust, literally just upstairs. It’s lovely.
Do you think you could live with a close family member? Even if you had your own personal space would the proximity be hard or easy for you? How do you manage your time and relationships with family?
Bunny rabbit on the bed
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at [email protected]