I will preface this by saying that I am not generally a big fan of statistics. As a psychology and communications student who had to interpret lots of statistics, and later as a business owner, I understand how to present them in ways that make just about any point. Noting that, I did find the following interesting with regard to intergenerational family living. First, though, what is intergenerational family living? It is defined as three or more generations of a family living together in one home. And, according to the Generations United 2021 report, 1 in 4 Americans (actually 26%) lives in a multigenerational household. Since their 2011 survey, this number has increased 271% when it was reported that 7 in 100 people then lived in multi-generational homes. How do we explain this jump?
I think we all have to admit that the last two+ years have been different. We have had to learn to adapt to things that we had never really considered before, like working from home, home-schooling children, spending more time together than ever before, etc. So we have learned a lot about adapting to changes in circumstances. So it is not surprising that a little more than half of the respondents living in a multigenerational home attributed the pandemic and current economic climate for this change. In all, about 2/3 stated that the major factor contributing to their multigenerational living situation was economics. Other factors included the need for eldercare, child care or child education needs, job-related circumstances such as loss or under-employment , healthcare costs, cultural and family expectations, education/retraining , change in marital status, and/or housing loss or foreclosure.
Generations United concluded that multigenerational living can positively impact families, the nation, the economy and the environment as it “enables families to draw upon the strengths of multiple generations, working tougher to create solutions in the best interests of family members of all ages.”
Multigenerational households offer several benefits to family members. These include enhanced relationships among family members; ease of providing care for one or more family member(s); improved finances for at least one family member; a positive impact on personal mental and/or physical health; and the ability for at least one family member to remain in school or enroll in job training.
Families become “resilient” as they share both good and challenging times. There are, however, some drawbacks as well that they do not mention, the largest ones being lack of privacy and unsolicited advice or intervention. And there’s the question of who does what, i.e., divvying up chores and responsibilities so they are distributed amongst the family members instead of falling on the shoulders of one or two individuals?
So how does this actually work? My own experience threw us into providing eldercare for my parents for about eight months. On the day that we settled on a new home, we took my dad to the emergency room. This was during the pandemic, which meant that both my husband and I were needed – one to stay with my dad, and the other to stay with my mother who cannot be left alone. The irony of this was that we purchased this particular house with the thought that if my parents (one or both) ever needed to live with us, the layout of this house would allow for that and give us the space to continue to work from home. This was the beginning of our two-generation setting.
Our short-lived intergenerational setting came into play when my daughter, along with her year-old son and husband came for four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with their two dogs. Having some work done on their house, they needed a quiet and clean place to stay (and also work). We had the space, so it made sense. We all adjusted to new routines and did what we could to make things work. At least, I think it worked because those three (with the pups) came back for another 10 days this spring while additional work was being done on their house. In addition, with our new house came a few projects that needed to be done, so my son has been in and out frequently, as well. So we have had a lot of togetherness since our move. Admittedly, though, my grandson was the sunshine in every day!
While this was not a permanent living situation for us (my parents have recently returned home as well), it was interesting to see how four generations could live together, even in the short term. I won’t say that we did not have challenges, but we found ways to make our new conditions work. Here’s how:
The most interesting thing we noticed was that our grandson and my parents have a bond that is very tight. Sawyer would look for them each morning and insisted on giving them hugs when he left the house and at night before going to bed. He is fascinated by them and they truly enjoy each other’s company. Because he comes to visit on Thursdays, he was very disappointed when he came the first week after my parents had already gone home. He actually searched the house for them to be sure that I was telling him the truth! We joked that the order of “people” he wanted to see when he arrived was PopPop, MeowMeow (our cat), and Grammy (that’s me!).
So basically, good planning and communication, along with a sense of humor, were all key elements in helping us navigate these unusual circumstances. Consideration needs to be given to the individual needs of each family member, along with the financial implications, available space and privacy, and work situations. During Covid when getting out was more difficult, many people were working from home. Some have been able to continue that, which is both positive and negative, depending on their circumstances.
Intergenerational living may be a great solution for families that enjoy one another’s company, have good communication, want and are able to support each other, and have a need that this will address. It does involve giving up some things like privacy (unless you have firm guidelines). It does strengthen bonds, though it can also test them, as well. As with anything else in life, your experience will be based on what you are able and willing to put into it and it is up to everyone involved to make this work successfully. Hopefully, the challenges will be outweighed by the joy!