There are a few things in my life that I’ve come to realize fall outside of most people’s realm of normal living. Most people don’t put mayonnaise on every sandwich. Most people don’t stay until the final credits of every movie. Most people don’t know what it’s like to have lived in a multigenerational family three times in their life.
Every morning I wake up to the sound of my son laughing. Usually it’s over a retelling of a dream or possibly a silly weatherman, but without fail his morning starts in a fit of giggles. I wish I could say I was the one responsible for his morning laughter, but it’s not me. It’s his grandmother, Lolly. By the time I wake up, the two of them will have had dozens of adventures all in the span of 30 minutes. I enjoy the laughter, and then it’s my job to cajole everyone into work clothes or school uniforms. Then it’s breakfast, making of the lunches, a rush to get shoes on, and then a dash to the car so we can drop off Lolly at the train station. My son, W, and I wait to make sure her train arrives, and then I drive him on to school.
It seems so normal to us, and we honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I was 7, my mother and I moved into a basement apartment in the home that belonged to my grandparents. Mom was about to start law school and having two extra adults to help look after me was a relief for her.
I was thrilled to be able to spend so much time with my grandparents. Not once did I ever feel neglected or secondary. I understood that mom needed to focus on her studies and while she was doing that, my grandfather was teaching me how to play chess and my grandmother, Millie, was teaching me how to write proper thank you letters.
Decades later I became Millie’s caregiver. When my mother and I moved in to take care of her, we once again became a multigenerational family. Like before, I was the youngest in the three generations, but my role was incredibly different. When I was younger, Millie and my grandfather helped to take care of me. Now I was providing care to Millie.
When I became a mom, we all delighted in being part of a four generation family. We knew it was special and we celebrated that. Millie and my mother were tremendously helpful in supporting me through my pregnancy and early motherhood.
After Millie passed away, I couldn’t imagine not being near my mom. Thankfully she felt the same way about us!
The percentage of families like mine in America is steadily increasing. “According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, live in a house with at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and at least one other generation.”
True, many multigenerational families come together because of financial issues or health circumstances like mine did, but something amazing happens when all of those generations get under one roof. Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, says, “Families may be coming together because of the economy, but they’re staying together because it helps them all.”
Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, says that according to the most recent studies, close to 8 million kids live with their grandparents. “To put that in perspective, that means that about 1 in 10 kids are living with a grandparent.”
I asked my son what he liked about living with his grandmother. I explained that not everyone gets to do such a thing and wanted to know what he thought was particularly special about it.
“I get to go on adventures. She takes me to church. And she has breakfast with me. She sometimes does the bath and story. I would be sad if Lolly was not here.”
I then turned to my mother to ask the same question.
“You all are the life and the light, the brightness and the noise, the forward motion in an otherwise solitary journey.”
So what do I think is so great about my multigenerational family? Personally I feel lucky to have my mom as my support system at home. It’s also great that the two of them, grandmother and grandson, enjoy hanging out with each other so much. (She’s actually playing with W right now while I write this.) I love getting to watch my mom WITH my son. It reminds me of how much I loved hanging out with my grandparents. And yes, it has been cost-effective to split many household bills.
A few times I will confess to worrying about dating and having to tell the guy, “I live with my mother.” But then I remember that Cher’s character lived with four generations in Moonstruck — and that all worked out just fine for her.
This way of life, under one roof with multiple generations, works for us. It’s worked many times and in many different scenarios. I hope my son will continue the family tradition.
Article Posted 3 years Ago
Putting three generations under one roof--the most common multigenerational living arrangement--became a growth industry during the recession. As the economy and housing markets steadily if slowly recover, the financial stresses driving this trend will recede. However, the personal and social benefits of expanded living arrangements can be enormously positive lifestyle developments for some families, particularly in an aging society.
Before World War II, about 25 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households. After the war, rising affluence and a mobile society led to a steady decline. "In 2008, an estimated 49 million Americans, or 16 percent of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation," according to the Pew Research Center. "In 1980, this figure was just 28 million, or 12 percent of the population."
"Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the common advice was to cut what was called 'the silver cord,'" says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. "Don't take your parents in, experts warned. Don't even remain very close to them. Focus on your own nuclear families."
"Those years were the low point in all of American history in the percentage of multigenerational households, as well as in favorable attitudes toward them," adds Coontz, who also works with the nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families. "I think that there has been a rediscovery of the importance of intergenerational ties in recent years, partly perhaps because marriages have become more fragile, partly because adult kids often delay marriage long enough so that they socialize more with their parents in their 20s, and partly because more democratic and individualized child-rearing values have led to a greater sense of closeness."
Viewed from the perspective of the oldest generation, living in multigenerational homes requires a lot of compromises and adjustments, experts say.
"The most important thing is for people to be able and willing to communicate what they want, what they're willing to do, and what they're not willing to do," says Joshua Coleman, a private psychologist who specializes in adult child-parent relationships. There also needs to be joint recognition that when such households are formed, there is usually a power imbalance.
[Read:6 Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Money.]
The owners of the home tend to have the stronger position of control. "The person whose home is being moved into may be a little bit more set in their ways of how they want the household to run," Coleman says.
If the adult child has lost his or her job, guilt and shame may be brought into the equation. If an older parent has chronic health problems that require substantial care, this can create its own type of imbalance in the relationship. Imbalances also can be a major source of stressful conflict in money issues. Even if respective financial responsibilities have been agreed to in advance, those shouldering most of the financial burden may have, or feel they deserve, a controlling role in the household.
"Ideally, it's a negotiation among equals where everyone's feelings are taken into consideration," Coleman says. "But that requires people to communicate, and a lot of people aren't very good communicators." He emphasizes that the best time to communicate is before generations move in together. "It's always easier to brainstorm potential conflicts beforehand then to try to create new rules or boundaries afterwards."
"One of the tensions seems to be over each generation's love life," Coontz says she has observed in her research. "I expected, of course, that the parents would have to come to terms with their children's romantic and sexual entanglements. But I've heard of several instances in which the younger generation living with a single mom or dad has gotten judgmental about his or her dating choices."
Other situations requiring special attention include conflicts between grandparents and their adult children about grandchildren. Generational parenting attitudes often differ, and grandparents may need to step back and refrain from imposing their own parenting views on their children. Also, grandparents should not be the assumed to be sitters, available on little or no advance notice to care for grandchildren.
Lastly, Coleman notes, sensitivity is required when key family members are not blood relatives of other household occupants. It might be an in-law spouse or even the friend of a teen or young adult grandchild. Do not assume they will have the same attitudes toward multigenerational living as do direct family members.
[Read: Should Seniors Live Alone or With Family?]
AARP has developed a nine-point checklist to help families--and older family members in particular--achieve success:
1. Prepare your home. Does your home work for everyone, young and old? Can your house accommodate someone who might find climbing stairs a challenge or who might need a walk-in shower or a single-handle faucet?
2. Prepare your family. Have regular family conferences to discuss issues before they become problems. Before moving in together, ask family members of all ages to talk about how they expect life to change, including what they want, what they are excited about, and what they're nervous about.
3. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. Decide how the living space in your home will be used.
4. Let them live their own lives. This is important whether older household members are highly active and independent or if they are being cared for. Opportunities to see friends, continue activities they enjoy, and have downtime are important at any age.
5. Get in a groove. Consistency will help minimize the inevitable disruptions. Keep routines such as mealtimes and bedtime rituals.
6. Make a play date. Facilitate grandparent-grandchild interactions.
[Read: How to Help Family Members Without Hurting Your Own Finances.]
7. Don't get caught in the middle. Often, parents have trouble trying to please the older and younger generations. You can't be expected to take care of everyone if you are running on empty.
8. Be realistic. Only so much furniture can fit in a house. People can only be expected to change so much over a lifetime. Teens will want to hang out with their grandparents only so much. Elders will be willing to handle only a certain volume level on the stereo. There are only 24 hours in a day. And you can be in only one place at a time, no matter how much everyone needs you.
9. Make memories. Capitalize on the opportunities you have with multiple generations in the household. Have fun and treasure the time.
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