Multigenerational living on the rise

Over 51 million Americans live with at least two generations of adults under one roof. 

That’s a 60 percent increase in multigenerational households since 1990 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Americans on the whole haven’t lived in multigenerational families since the end of World War II but a combination of our current economic woes, a rapidly aging society and a shifting demographic to a larger population of Asian and Hispanic families has caused many to take another look at it as a viable option.  A Generations United survey found that 66 percent of adults in multigenerational household chose that lifestyle due to the current economic crisis.

Multigenerational families can pool resources and share costs, provide opportunities for increased educational opportunities and allow the generations to spend time and really get to know each other.  Researchers in a Generations United study found that 82 percent of individuals living in multigenerational households felt that it “enhanced family bonds.”  Cost savings are not limited to the individual members of the family.  People remaining at home and caring for each other can help slow or reduce the cost of healthcare on a national level.

As this article on building trends says, “We are changing from Leave it to Beaver to The Waltons.”  It sounds kind of silly but the problem is that with nearly an entire generation’s lifespan since the last time Americans have chosen to live as a multigenerational group we’ve forgotten how it’s done.  There are multitudes of books about how to proceed and at least one class and even some blogs including one on AARP.org.  A U.S. News and World Report offers five suggestions for families contemplating taking the big step.

  1. Not surprisingly, their first suggestion is to share the bills.  Jessica Bruno, who lives with her parents, grandparents, husband and son in a situation that has individuals from 5 to 85 living under one roof blogs at FourGenerationsOneRoof.  Her blog concentrates on DIY projects but she does take time out to talk about the financial aspects of sharing space with other adults.  Her biggest recommendation?  A fridge for every family group.
  2. According to Census data, 11.5 percent of multigenerational households were at poverty level as compared to the national average of 14.6 in non-multigenerational households.  One of the potential biggest cost savings associated with living in a multigenerational household is that you have built in care either for children or for a family member with health issues.  The potential conflict arises when individuals have different parenting or caregiving styles.  It’s important to find a way to reach compromises that don’t undercut family relationships.
  3. Make sure that you have your own space.  A house that once seemed quite large can seem crowded with the addition of noisy children or family members with different schedules.  That may mean cultivating outside activities that get you out of the house and creating havens within the house that cannot be breached by other family members without an invitation.

Bruno wrote that while they were waiting for the addition on their house to be finished that they had separate bins for each family.  The bins made it possible for the tidier family members to avoid the extra work (and aggravation) of picking up after the messier family members.

  1. If you moved in together because of health reasons, make sure that all parties have some opportunities for a breather.  That means sometimes it is okay for Grandma to go to the Adult Day Care, or the senior center or to hire someone for a few hours a week to take care of her while you take care of your own cares.
  2. Decide early on what subjects are not open for discussion.  It may sound trite but communication is one of the most important aspects of successfully living together whether you are a part of a couple or a part of a large family unit.  Having regular family meetings to discuss what is working can help identify situations that may not be problems now but could grow into problems later.

The biggest secret to successfully living in a multigenerational family is recognizing that it requires the work of any other relationship.  If you imagine moving in with your parents or your children and you shudder, it may not be a good move for you regardless of the other benefits.  Many of the blogs and articles suggested that making the decision to live together really should happen before there is a crisis situation.  Once someone needs help and can’t provide the benefits you expect from moving in together you’re likely to find it not worth the added stress.  Spend some time reading about it, talking to people who have already done it and then talking to and planning it with the other members of your potential extended family.

Here’s a list of titles that offer some help on the topic:

All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living, by Sharon Graham Niederhaus and John L. Graham

Together Again: A Creative Guide to Multigenerational Living, Sharon Graham Niederhaus

Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily, Susan Newman

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Posted in Multigenerational Housing.

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