Over 50 million Americans live in multi-generational households. Whether it’s an elderly parent moving in with their kids, a college graduate coming back into the basement, or a sibling popping in for a couple months after a job loss, you’d have to go back to the 1940s to see so many extended relatives sharing single residences. According to the New York Times, this is a growing trend, one we’re beginning to build our houses specifically to accommodate.
It sounds so warm and fuzzy. Grandparents and parents and children living peacefully together. Aunts or uncles available to help take care of little ones. Twenty-somethings moving back in with their parents to get themselves established before moving out on their own. How idyllic and magical and wonderful for those kids who get even bigger families to help raise them.
Well, my friends, I’ve lived with my parents as an adult. In fact, in a weird twist of fate, both my sister and I lived with my parents while we were pregnant with our little ones. My sister was only there because she was moving and closing on her house took much longer than expected. I was there because I was pregnant and needed time to prepare a financial foundation for myself before my daughter was born.
My family and I are extremely close. I have lunch with my dad on a weekly basis. (I saw him twice this week.) We have dinner at my parent’s house, and my in-law’s house, almost every week. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company. If anyone should be able to make multi-generational living work, isn’t it a family that already spends a whole lot of time together?
I’m sorry to burst everyone’s bubble, but I think my parents, my sister, and I would all agree that in the long-term, you want your own house. You want a little separation. And a secret entrance to “your wing” from the garage just isn’t the type of independence we’re talking about here.
Yes, my parents love my daughter. They help me raise her in a million different ways. My daughter and my parents have a really close relationship. My parents are also happy to take my daughter out for fast food, or give her candy at absolutely any time throughout the day. My mother would let my daughter eat $50 worth of raspberries and organic yogurt every night for dinner. My daughter would undoubtedly get more wisdom and love, but she would also get a little less structure and a whole lot of spoiling.
And the kids are the least of the problems. The biggest issue is that older parents, no matter how successful their children have become, always feel like they need to be taking care of them. My mother would always want to make big meals and have tons of groceries on hand and help me with every little thing. Even though she would’ve never made me feel guilty about it, it was a lot of additional stress for her. No matter how self-sufficient I was, for my mom, there was another kid in the house that she needed to look after.
My sister had the longest stay with our parents. She took to shutting herself and her daughter away in their rooms. She never got to feel like she was completely in charge of her own home. If she wanted to have a lazy night with sweet potato fries and chicken fingers, she felt like she had to explain herself to my parents. She felt the need to be constantly “on,” because there was always someone there to see her.
We are an intensely loving family. We’re all close. My sister recently moved a couple hours away and all of us feel like a piece of our hearts has been ripped away. But multi-generational living? That was not some grand experiment. I won’t be building on extra wings to my house for additional family members. I love seeing them. But I also love that we each go our separate ways at the end of the night, able to watch reality television or eat a bowl of ice cream of enjoy any other guilty pleasure without anyone knowing about it.