According to the US Census data, roughly 16% of Americans live in a household with at least two adult generations. The highest level in 50 years. Although the practice is familiarly common in many cultures around the world for centuries, it is growing in the US. More and more people are living in multigenerational households for various reasons and the living arrangement carries a variety of pros and cons. I will discuss each of the pros and cons as well as questions that should be discussed when considering living in a multigenerational household. Is a multigenerational household a treasure or torture or a bit of both?
There are a number of benefits of living in a multigenerational household. First, kids and grandparents have daily access to each other. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can grow stronger as they can share in the day to day life experiences. For example, when a child gets an award at school, the grandparents can easily share in the accomplishment as the child comes home and talks about rather than hearing about it secondhand. Second, the adults can share living expenses and thus savings costs on various bills. Expenses such as groceries and utilities can be divided among the adults to ease the financial burdens. Third, with older parents living in the households, they can provide more support in the way of child care and saves time finding a babysitter if an emergency arises. Lastly, adult children will have the ability to provide in home care and keep an eye on aging parents especially when one or both parents loses the ability to living on their own.
There are also a number of cons to living in a multigenerational household. First, the loss of privacy and alone time for everyone in the household. With more people in a household, finding a space where you can be alone and unwind may become harder and harder. Second, more pressure on the main income earners. Especially if the old parents are retired and living on a fixed income and expenses rise, the main income earners may feel the pressure to keep everyone afloat. Third, personality conflicts and clashes with habits and behaviors. With older parents being used to being the parents, there may be conflict over parenting the younger children. Or the constant reminders of “that’s not how I used to do it” when an older parent sees the adult child do a chore or prepare food or even discipline the young children. Lastly, feeling like a permanent guest or host. The constant feeling of not really being home or having to entertain can quickly wear on the adults in the household.
When considering a multigenerational household there are a number of questions to consider. Because with even with the best of intentions, it is a situation that cannot be entered into blindly.
1. Will the move be short term, long term or permanent?
- Considering the terms of the stay can elevate the possible cons or prepare everyone for the possible conflicts that may arise.
2. Is there enough space for everyone?
- Trying to fit adults and children in a tiny space will ultimately lead to conflicts and other issues.
3. What will be the rules, roles and boundaries? How will they be decided and moderated? What procedures can be established to resolve conflicts in order to avoid resentments and tension?
- Establishing boundaries beforehand is an excellent way to avoid conflicts from the beginning. For instance, stating that an individual’s or a couple’s bedroom/bathroom be off-limits to everyone else can help with the privacy issues.
4. Do you offer family meetings to discuss conflicts, concerns or issues that may arise once the move-in is complete? How often should they be held?
- Monthly meetings should be considered to discuss any issues such as budget and changes in schedules, etc. Discussion on how chores should be divided so everyone knows their responsibilities in the household.
5. What items will or will not be shared? Will food be shared or will certain items be off limits?
- It may seem like a non-issue; however, frustrations could arise if someone buys something as a treat for them and everyone eats it before he or she can enjoy it.
6. How much of daily life and events be shared or separated? Will meals be together or separate? Will vacations and outings be together or separate?
- The answer to this questions probably boils down to schedule and if the family is together during meal times. As for vacations and outings, I would anticipate some to be separate as well as possible family vacations together.
7. What are the guidelines for inviting guests? Do you consult each other when you want to invite a friend over or is everyone free to invite guests over without consultation?
- It is a sign of respect for those you live with when you consult others about if and when visitors will be invited and at the residence.
In my research, one site suggested that two questions should be answered. First, do you and your parents get along? I think regardless if you and your parents or even your spouse’s parents get along, living together is an entirely different situation than just being able to get along at functions and other get-togethers. Could the living arrangement bring up childhood issues? Can you live with your parents’ characteristics and behaviors? And can they live with yours? Second, are you and your spouse agreeable with the arrangement? Even if you get along with your parents, the bigger question is does your spouse? Having one or more parents living with you can cause tensions in any relationship especially a marriage. Abstain from directing anger at your spouse and guard your relationship as the center which holds the household together. I think the questions I’ve listed above are a good start in starting the conversation about living in a multigenerational household. Some situations may have more or less questions depending on the individuals involved.
In conclusion, even with the best laid out plans, as the new household learns to come together, it would be wise to expect conflicts, frustrations, restricted freedoms, role confusion and loss of privacy until everyone can learn the rhythm of the arrangement or until the arrangement ends, if in the short term. The most important thing to establish is the expectations of everyone in the arrangement. And keep those expectations clear in everyone’s mind as time goes on. Open communication is also key (and it is key in any situation regardless of living arrangements). If you are considering a multigenerational household, list your questions and concerns to be discussed with everyone beforehand.