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One secret more working parents are discovering: Multigenerational living

June 6, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is a multigenerational home?

How do multigenerational homes work

Benefits of living in a multigenerational home

Drawbacks of living in a multigenerational home

Tips for living in a multigenerational household

Already common in some cultures and countries, multigenerational living is on the rise in others. Only 12% of American adults lived in a multigenerational home as of 1980. Four decades later, that percentage has more than doubled, to 26%. 

Why the rise? There are practical reasons for multigenerational housing. Most people choose to live together for financial reasons and caregiving at first. For those working adults feeling the pressures of balancing career with caregiving, the high cost of housing and difficulty of arranging for convenient and high-quality care — for children or aging parents — are contributing factors.

Eventually, they find that there are mental and emotional benefits to multigenerational living as well.

 Gagandeep, writer at Yogic-experience explained the benefits as a working mother: “I get housekeeping help from other family members. My children get child care, love, and attention from their great-grandmother and grandparents. Our great-grandmother receives the necessary support and care she needs. My husband and I get financial assistance from his parents and learn from their experience.” 

So is a multigenerational home a good idea for you and your family? How might it affect your relationships, career, work- and home life? Read on to learn how these homes work, the benefits, drawbacks, and what you can do to live a fulfilling life in a multigenerational home.

What is a multigenerational home?

When we talk about multigenerational living, we usually think of related children plus adults from two or more generations living together under one roof. The number of family members, the relationships between them, and the physical living spaces can vary widely, though.

If you’re a grandparent, that’s you, your child, both your partners (if present), and your grandchildren. Otherwise, if you're a parent, it’s typically you, your partner (if present), your parent/s, and your children. 

Sometimes, a multigenerational household will have both sets of in-laws. Or, it may include an uncle or aunt, or a great grandparent too — like with Gagandeep’s home!

How do multigenerational homes work?

In multigenerational homes, families often have separate living areas under the same roof. They also tend to split bills and housework and often pitch in for caregiving beyond their immediate family. 

For example, the Ocasios live under one roof with their daughter and grandchildren but have separate living spaces. Ramon Ocasio lives upstairs with his wife. Their daughter Monica lives downstairs with her children. They have two kitchens and separate entrances.

Ramon has a better credit score so the house is in his name. He pays the mortgage while Monica takes care of the gas, electric, and cable bills. Each family feels greater financial wellness as a result of the arrangement.

The grandparents help with childcare, they pick the younger kids up from school. Monica feels more supported as a working parent. They also take them to doctor’s appointments sometimes when Monica is stuck at work. 

Likewise, Monica and her children help Ramon and his wife. Monica frequently cooks for the whole family. The older kids drive their grandmom to doctor’s appointments and help their grandparents figure tech out.  

 

 

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Benefits of living in a multigenerational home

Improved finances and greater financial security rank high among the benefits of living in a multigenerational home. Here are some others:

  • Enhanced relationships

  • More convenient and higher quality care for children or adults

  • Improved financial situation

  • Improved mental and physical health for household members

  • Ability for a family member to pursue education or training


Source: Generations United

Lower living expenses

Affordability is a major benefit of multi-generational living. Each family in a multigenerational home often pays less in bills than they would if they lived on their own. 

After all, the mortgage doesn’t rise because there are six people living in a home instead of two. Similarly, gas, electric, and cable bills do not go up considerably when the number of residents increases. Consider the reduced prices that come with buying more and even groceries cost less after you’ve split the bill. 

The Ocasios’ mortgage costs $2,000 for example. Their expenses are around $1,000 per month. Grandpa Ramon Ocasio covers the mortgage while his daughter Monica takes care of the expenses. By living together, Ramon saves around $1,000 on expenses and Monica saves $2,000 on mortgage.

That extra money can go towards savings, debt repayment, hobbies, or other life dreams.  Meanwhile, everyone, including the children, benefit from reducing the experience of financial stress.

Affordable, trustworthy adult or childcare

Many working-age adults are in the sandwich generation — they are still mid-career, their parents are aging and in need of assistance, but the still have young children. Many adults and older kids care for their aged parents or grandparents in multigenerational homes. Often, the grandparents will babysit the little children as well.  

79% of multigenerational home dwellers say living together makes it easier to meet the care needs of at least one family member.

The Ocasios for example, pick up their grandchildren from school and help babysit them while their daughter is out for work. The older children run errands and drive their grandparents, while their daughter Monica cooks for the family.

This caregiving arrangement can save families around $60,000 in adult home care, and up to $25,000 in child care per year.

These savings allow young parents to further their careers or go back to school while the people they love receive ‌care. Explaining how much her relatives took on the baby duties, Gagandeep says, “Maybe that’s why I was able to do well in my career even after having triplets.”

Enhanced mental and cognitive health

People who grow up in multigenerational households have higher levels of cognition. The sense of social support from a multigenerational family leads to better mental health as well.

Kristina Mishevska of Globo Surf who grew up in a multigenerational home shares her experience:

“Always having someone to talk to. To always have someone available to assist you in completing a task… To see, hear, and feel someone from another generation. To converse with them and get to know them. Being exposed to their worldview had a significant impact on my life.”

There are significant cognitive and emotional benefits for the elderly members of a multigenerational home as well. Loneliness and lack of stimulation and social connection are serious problems for aging adults living alone, especially as partners and friends become incapacitated or die. Being surrounded by the noise and interactions of family life and feeling a sense of meaning in playing a role in the household can preserve adaptability and help stave off cognitive decline and conditions such as depression that eat away at mental and physical health.

Drawbacks of living in a multigenerational home

Living in a multigenerational home isn’t without its cons. A lack of privacy, family conflicts, and caregiver burnout top the list of negatives for many people.

Less privacy

Those who live in multigenerational homes have less privacy. Sure, your immediate family might have a personal wing, but you still have some communal space. And you can’t fully own those extra spaces. 

You often can't talk on the phone or listen to music without being heard.

If you're someone who likes to spend a lot of time alone and likes your personal space, this could be a challenge.

Increased tendency for family conflicts

Another drawback is having to deal with opinions from almost everyone.

Everyone has an opinion about everything, from how to raise the children to where to go on vacation. Sometimes people won't restrain from sharing their unsolicited opinions with you. 

Caregiver burnout

When one person takes on most of the responsibility for caring for an older parent, it can quickly lead to caregiver burnout

Similarly, aging parents who take on more caregiving responsibilities than they can handle can burn out as well.

Jane Graham who cares for her five grandchildren says: “I will be honest, there are days when I’m overloaded – overstimulated probably – and I need to have quiet time and get away.”

Why are multigenerational households on the rise?

Pew Research Center says financial issues and caregiving top the reasons for living together.

In the average household, 34.9% of income goes to housing alone. Child care tacks on an extra expense worth 10% of household income. And in-home adult care costs upwards of $50,000 per year. 

These costs are rising too. In April 2022, interests on mortgages reached 5.37%, an all-time high since 2009.

People are living together more to improve their financial situations. They want to prevent and pay off debt without sacrificing the quality of life for themselves and their loved ones.

Tips for living in a multigenerational household

If you suspect a multigenerational living arrangement may be right for you, here are some tips to make it work:

1. Create separate spaces as well as common spaces

Common spaces foster community while separate spaces allow each family a sense of privacy. Create a space with a private entrance, and maybe a kitchenette for each single-family. If you work from home, you’ll need a space away from the larger family for yourself.

For common spaces, you could build an outdoor patio where all family members can eat meals together in good weather. Or you could construct a family room with a large screen TV where everyone can watch movies together.

And it doesn’t even have to be special customization that requires a home builder. It could be a shared living room or kitchen. The Ocasios just share Monica's kitchen where they cook and eat together on Sundays.

2. Respect each other’s time, space, and rules

People can’t coexist peacefully if there isn’t mutual respect for setting boundaries (and maintaining them). Even if a family member accepts intrusions and disrespect at first, tension will build and boil over if it continues. 

Remember, a multigenerational situation is usually one that you intend to keep for years. It pays to do the hard work of clarifying expectations and preferences up front.

Sometimes, respect will mean not entering another person’s room without knocking. But it also means realizing that an adult probably knows what's best for them. Don’t try to control your adult child, or parent's life just because you're living together.

Some tips are common sense — just imagine how you would treat an unrelated adult housemate. Little things matter, especially over time. Don’t leave dirty dishes on the table or in the sink overnight. Don’t leave trash around the house. Ask before borrowing something from another person. If they say no, accept it gracefully. If Grandpa says no calls during dinner, or mom says no candies for the little ones, those are their family values, respect them.

3. Communicate expectations and feelings openly

Open communication means that members of the family can talk about, and trash issues before they cause tension.

Set realistic expectations together so everyone knows what to do. For example, keeping the television volume low or eating dinner together every night. You should also talk about daily chores, who needs to do what, and who will pay what bill.

When people don’t meet those expectations, talk to them about it respectfully and as soon as you can.

4. Create opportunities for caregivers to recharge 

A stressed-out caregiver won't be as effective, so it's in everyone's best interest that caregivers get breaks often.

Encourage caregivers in the family to do something fun and relaxing for a full day once or twice a month. You could watch the kids while they go on a weekend getaway with friends, or just spend the day at home watching TV.

You could also gift them a monthly membership to a yoga club or fitness facility or wellness coaching to encourage social interaction.

Or maybe just take them out for coffee and let them talk through how they're feeling in their role as caregiver. 

5. Incorporate intergenerational activities to boost bonding

Whether it's hosting a fun game night, a family vacation, or hiking together, doing things together boosts bonding.

Help the kids, parents, and grandparents get to know and like each other with activities everyone will enjoy.

You could all go for walks together, or go for ice cream together on weekends.

Even eating dinner is a great way to encourage the bond that comes from togetherness. For grandchildren and grandparents (and everyone in-between), a cooking and sharing a dinner together, even once a week, can become a family tradition that everyone looks forward to. 

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Multigenerational living is rewarding when you do it right

Multigenerational living is an excellent way for young families to save money on childcare and housing costs. It’s also a great way to care for aging parents while keeping costs low.

To reap all the benefits of multigenerational living, set expectations and respect boundaries. Also, encourage activities that aid bonding. But don’t forget to care for the primary caregivers in the home too. They are most susceptible to mental stress and burnout, and that’s not good for anyone in the home.

 

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Published June 6, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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