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Moving in with Mom or the kids? Be careful

It can work. It can even be wonderful. It depends on how you go about it.

By doubleace Apr 20, 2011 11:31AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


It sounds so perfect. Mom or Dad, now alone in a too-big house with a too-big yard, move in with a daughter. Or a son and his family move out of their apartment and into a parent's place.


Then they live happily ever after. Well, based on sheer numbers, some of them must.


A report issued last month by Pew Research Center shows that about one in five Americans 25 to 34 and one in five 65 or older live in multigenerational housing. Overall, about 49 million live in such households, a 33% jump since 1980.


Most do it for solid reasons -- financial or care-giving help and social support -- but you still have to be careful that the solution isn’t worse than the problem. Here are some guidelines:  


Be honest. If you can't stand your dad visiting for more than three days, or your teeth jangle every time one of the grandkids sasses their mom, this might not turn out to be a happy conjoined household.


What about eating? Older people tend to get up and go to bed early. They want breakfast at 7, dinner at 5 and lunch at precisely noon. The younger generations' meals are dictated by work schedules and activities; dinner at 6 one night, 8 the next and sometimes not at all.


Opinions are like earlobes; everybody has a couple. And moms will always be moms. If you don't want to hear them, think how your teenagers will feel.


Will the grandparent be expected to baby-sit? And will there be health care expectations? How will the chores be divided? On a more delicate level, will "overnight visitors" be tolerated?


Even if you get all these issues settled, a trial run is a good idea, says John L. Graham, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Irvine, and co-author of "Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living"


"A vacation where you share a common kitchen will test the personalities of the adults in close contact" and certainly elicit useful information, he told The Washington Post. He also suggested staying in a nearby residential hotel or motel. That would allow you to spend time during the day with your relatives and get a sense of their household rhythms.

And don't hurry the decision. "If at all possible, let the idea sit for a long time and through many, many conversations," said Elizabeth Mullins of Santa Cruz, Calif., who integrated her mother into her household when her children were young. "You are remaking your family," Mullins told The New York Times. "It's not something to rush if you can help it."


Graham suggested that if you think you might want to move in with a relative at 70, you should start talking about it at 65.



Everybody needs it. Few things will divide a household quicker than overexposure or squabbling on Monday nights over whether to watch "Dancing with the Stars," "How I Met Your Mother" or "Fantasy Factory."

Newcomers may require their own room, their own bathroom, their own kitchen and, perhaps, even their own living unit.


If that's not possible, Graham suggests living next door, across the street, or back-to-back and sharing the same backyard, or a duplex with each household occupying one half.

Mullins and her husband opted to buy and remodel a house with quarters for her mother. Then they established informal rules.

"Figure out what is family times, personal time and big extended family time," she said. "For instance, we like to all have dinner together a few nights a week, but my daughter, husband and I still want a few nights just to ourselves."

Bozena Smith of Chicago, who brought her mother into her home decades ago, told The New York Times you have to remain flexible and caring.


"Use trial and error: tweaking, refining and fine-tuning the rules and boundaries to help maintain harmony," she said. "We pay careful attention to one another's needs, moods, strengths and weaknesses and act quickly, forthrightly and decisively to ensure that things continue to run smoothly.

"Avoid power struggles by agreeing by consensus on the best way to do things," Smith said. ". . . She modified her way of making mashed potatoes. . . . Similarly, I bow to her superior way of making chicken noodle soup. These examples may sound trivial, but they illustrate that we deliberately choose to resolve conflicts, however small, to maintain a peaceful atmosphere at home."



While it is seldom a good idea to mix money and relatives, you obviously have to in a multigenerational household. And the questions are endless: Should the newcomers pay rent? Buy their own food? Chip in on the utilities? Even, as Graham points out, who should pay for remodeling the home to accommodate the added people. Get these issues settled before anyone moves in.

"Divide up utility bills, and rotate," is how Mullins worked it out. "For instance, Mom pays the water, we pay for garbage; we'll switch in January."


New York Times reader "Hannah" recalled how it worked for her family:

When my husband and I were contemplating buying a house after our first child was born, we needed a little financial help. My grandpa was 88 and was having a hard time living on his own, but he refused to move into a nursing home. He helped us buy the house we still live in, and we took care of him until he passed away. It was extremely difficult at times, but we never regretted it.

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