2/5/2013 9:00 PM ET|
When 3 generations share a home
How do you make a multigenerational home work? Here 9 ways to craft a successful experience for everyone.
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 recover, the financial stresses driving this trend will recede. However, the personal and social benefits of expanded living arrangements can be enormously positive for some families, particularly in an aging society.
Before World War II, about 25% 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% 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% 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.
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 than 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.
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Maybe-depends on so many variables-my grandmother and a sibling lived with my parents for a short time. My Mom's brothers decided that it was her turn to take care of their Mom. My Mom's brothers were both extremely wealthy but my parents could barely make ends meet. My Mom had to quit her job to take of her Mom. The brothers knew dang well my parents didn't have the financial resources but never contributed a penny to provide assistance for the extra expenses and they had the audacity to complain about how my parents were caring for her. A few months later my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and given 3-6 months to live and the brothers still thought my Mom should take care of her Mom. Mom's doctor intervened and managed to get my grandmother into an assisted living facility nearby. All the while, my sibling was living with them...and was so freaked by the whole situation that he basically was unable to cope, and just could not help take care of my Mom at home. My Dad had to continue to work. And I was working in Japan at the time. So I quit my job and flew home to help take care of my Mom, but I rented a studio apt. nearby and told my former husband that he'd be on his own for several months which sent him into a rage. Told my brother to get a grip and move out and get a job. He was mad as a wet hen at me for years. My Mom died 3 months later. When her brothers came to my Mom's funeral they wanted things my grandmother had given to my Mom over the years and told me to get them that day. And they were livid that my Grandmother was in an assisted living facility. I'd had it so I firmly but nicely told them that since they didn't want Grandmother in assisted living it was up to them to find an alternative solution that they liked. They putzed around for months doing nothing and never even bothered to go see Grandmother; thus they had no idea how bad her dementia was and was no longer able to recognize me when I visited and needed 24/7 care. Unfortunately, Grandmother died three months later. My brother left town in the middle of the night, didn't tell me or my Dad he was leaving or where he was going. Several years later I got a call from the police-they'd found him in his apt on the West Coast and had overdosed. My poor Dad only lasted a few more years...all the losses and grief had taken their toll on him. I divorced my ex after I discovered that he was having an affair with a co-worker while I was taking care of my Mom. And me? After a year of intensive therapy, I sold my Dad's house, sold my house that I'd gotten thru the divorce settlement, found a good money manager, bought a house at the beach. About 10 years later, out of the blue, a guy I had two dates with in high school, called. He'd tracked me down via a friend of a friend who came to my Mom's funeral. I had no recollection of him and how to find my high school yearbook to figure out who he was! We eventually got married and put a 1500 square foot addition on our house for his Mom and Dad to live in despite my reluctance to do so. Then his sister and her husband an their two boys ended up poor as church mice due to an investment in a pyramid scam. They moved in with us as we put another 1500 sq foot addition on our house after many arguments that almost caused my marriage to fall apart. We've had a few downs but mostly ups with this arrangement. I count my blessings every day for being part of a family again, and I thank the Supreme Being who looked after me, and especially my money manager-without her, we could have never built the two additions, paid all the bills. How ironic, that while my family had a such bad time living with three generations in one house, that now living with three generations has turned out so well.
Our sons live with us. We took care of our aunts for 2 years before passing away. A few of my aunts taught my children how to fish, cook and how to play a mean game of poker with match sticks. Our home is set up with a day light basement that is a traditional 3 bedroom apartment complete with kitchen. Our sons want to continue to live there with their families. Good boundaries and open communication are key. Of course it helps to have respect of one another. The benefits of family living arrangements were realized when one of our sons came home from Iraq, flying in a military airplane with a view of coffins filled with military members who were killed on duty. Our son's exposure to death (from our aunts) kept his faith and he felt it his duty to watch over those who had passed.
Multigenerational families can be a great enhancement to family life. We save monies, they save monies.
I have shared my home with multi 3 generational family members. If I had to do it over again, I would not do it. We worked hard to get our home the way we wanted it for ourselves for retirement. We knew we wouldn't be able to afford a lot of new things after we retired. We did all the major things you can do to a home, new carpeting, draperies, furniture and a lot more. Now, its just worn out, not because anyone was abusive...it just couldn't handle the traffic. If it had just been my husband and myself it would have been fine. Now my home just isn't what it use to be. Most everyone has move on and we are left with a home that need much repair.
We are exhausted from helping to raise grand children, getting them to school, helping with baths, helping with their homework and everything else that goes with raising children. We love them dearly.
To paraphase an old sayng, "Cheaper to keep 'em".
We doin' it. Everybody pitches in; extraordinary household income.
What couple 'NEEDS' 2000 sq. ft. to be comfortable?
A great financial opportunity for all...
It's GREAT when it WORKS. And it DID - for my paternal grandparents, who had a rich and warm family household. My in-laws, on the other hand, ended up living in little in-communicative islands (rooms) with the minimum of open, comfortable interaction. Not any scene I would want to live in.
The article identified some key points - it's very much about The Money (shares expenses), there WILL be a "power structure" (someone owns, someone else is/are the folks moving in to share it, and some pay more than others), and it (may) promotes an "older way of (more) communal life". All Good Points.
It left out almost entirely the key deal-makers and breakers involved with sharing a household: 1) ALL must get some benefit - and RECOGNIZE that they are getting a real benefit - from an arrangement to be happy and cooperate within it. Folks are NOT happy just "sharing their space" or maybe "sharing the bills" - try the "room-mate scene and look at why that so often fails. I am not happy with telling YOU to clean up your mess. 2) ALL the players must have real RESPECT for all others - including recognition of "position" and its perspective. You MUST accept that others have rights and perogatives - from the git-go. Or be certain of a fight.
I have no desire to share my house with my almost-adult children. It's no judgement on their worth - just recognition that we want different things. Maybe after they have experienced and learned to step into and be comfy with personal and shared responsibility, but only after that is well-demonstrated. They received basic living-skills training - now they have to practice and polish them up to become full-participants in a household of even near-equals (but we will NEVER be equals - households are neither communes nor free democracies). I want to regain MY perspective on MY life. Their lives need to be under their control and become their responsibility. I do NOT want to be their go-fer, janitor, bill-payor, provider, etc. (And yes, I suspect that they don't wish to become my keeper and care-giver when I'm older... but that's almost a different subject!) Your minor children are not your equals, and should not be considered or held to be. When they become adults, they, like you, will have to still work on and polish their skills and develop their perspectives and attitudes towards others.
So - children, parents, the elderly.... different perspectives and roles. The parents paid for and raised their kids and prepped them for presumably successful lives. The kids will eventually inherit the parent's estate. So, it seems a not un-fair expectation that they should come to help and maybe care for the aging parents. But all this is expectation and trust about once (but no longer) fully-accepted roles within extended families. IF you have not established those roles and understanding BEFORE THE FACT, and cannot comfortably talk about them now, your multi-generational household will fail.
We are not, as a society, actually fostering any "family-first" vision in anyone - witness the growing generation-war over Social Security, taxation, etc. IF the ME attitude, as revealed in that difficult and acrymonious discussion, occurs within a family house-hold.... no way! For the family to work, EVERYBODY has to recognize that being there is BETTER than being somewhere else. We are now encouraging an "us vrs them" struggle for power and control. There is simply no room under one roof for this. Someone will have to make the decisions and be in charge and be responsible, and others will have to accept and BE HAPPY with their roles.
Consider that over 50% of marriages end in divorce. And anyone think that the attitudes and approaches and respect and negotiation skill and willingness to cooperate which is apparently so lacking there will be magically available to support being "married" within a multi-generational household? Tooth fairies!
I am in marketing and the number of multi-generational households now numbers in the millions!! We even have a few 30 year old toddlers on my block.
I hope a therapist comes with all of this.
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