• Fri, Nov 30 2012

I Love My Family Dearly But Multi-Generational Living Would Be Hell

multi-generationalOver 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.

(Photo: Kakigori Studio/Shutterstock)

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  • LiteBrite

    A couple of months ago, my grandparents, who are in their late 80s, moved in with my dad and stepmom. It’s not going well for many different reasons that I’d rather not get into here. One of the big issues though is that they need some sort of daycare-type supervision; however, my parents both work full-time and aren’t able to do that, and my grandparents are extremely resistant to someone else coming over and “babysitting” them (which is part of the reason why they’re not in assisted living).

    I think this idea of a close, loving family all happily living together under one roof is idealistic but simply not realistic for a lot of families. However, with our aging population living longer yet not having the financial resources for extended assisted living, living with a child or other relative at some point is a very real situation for them. My mom currently lives with her S/O in a paid-for house, so she has very few expenses. However, if something happened to him, she would not be able to stay in that house, and I know she would not have the financial ability to completely live on her own, especially in a retirement community. This would mean either a) My siblings and I would need to pick up some of the tab or b) She’d have to live with one of us. I’m fine with either option – she’s my mom, so of course I’ll do what I can for her – but the prospect of having my mom live with me (and it would be me because we have the bigger house) doesn’t totally appeal to me, no matter how much I love her.

    Yes, I’m aware there are government programs designed to help our aging population with living expenses (Title 19 is one I’m thinking of), but with growing budget deficits, and a large aging population, I’m wondering how long or how far these benefits will stretch for our elders. I’ll fully admit I’m not the Title 19 or elder care expert but am throwing out these thoughts for consideration.

    • LindsayCross

      My parents ran into a similar difficult situation. They ended up getting an apartment right down the street from my parents’ house for my grandmother. My mom spent all of her time over there when not working. They also had an in-home nursing and aid service. But really, in those situations, I don’t know that there’s ever an optimal conclusion. It’s difficult no matter what.

  • Justme

    My MIL is a widow and lives with her mother who is counting down the days until her 80th birthday. My MIL has already assured my husband that she has covered her bases financially and will not be moving in with us when living on her own becomes too much.

  • chickadee

    I wonder if it is less feasible now because of the cultural shift in the notion of independence that has taken place since the 1940s. My mother grew up with the idea that one separates or detaches and then moves a considerable distance in order to establish her independence (financial and emotional) from her parents. Our culture seems to value the idea that separation from the parents is an integral step in the maturation process, and I’m not sure that we can go backwards. I can’t imagine my mother moving in with us and deflecting to anything less than a shared authority in the household, whereas I would not be able to put up with that ever (not that it’s an issue, since both of my parents have died).

    I think the idea of adult independence is so firmly ingrained in mainstream culture that it would be incredibly difficult to revert to the multi-generational approach. People don’t usually assume that a widowed parent or aunt or uncle should move in with the children or relatives — we assume that as long as you have a place of your own, you must automatically want to stay there as long as possible. And when you can’t, you must want to be as little of a burden to your family as possible and will move into an assisted-living setup. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s what we seem to assume is the natural progression of things.

  • Ordinaryperson

    I moved in with my parents before my first child was born because my husband’s in the navy and was away training when I was due. It was the best thing I ever did, it was so awesome having my parents around to help with the baby, and since I was a “guest” in their home, the pressure of housework, grocery shopping and meal prep was all taken off the table so I could concentrate on learning how to be a mom. After my husband came home, we moved in with his parents, and it was just more of the same good times. Staying with our families helped us save enough in a year to make a great downpayment on a house, and took a lot of the first time parent pressure off.

  • Scarlette

    Many European (think Iberian and Mediterranean) and South American cultures are rife with multigenerational living. For it to be alien I feel is a American issue.

    Moreover, African Americans have been dealing (or benefiting) from multigenerational living for decades.

    It’s very much a culture issue. Some families are just closer than others.