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Making Multi-Generational Living Work for All Involved

Key Takeaways:

 

  • For a variety of practical, financial, and emotional reasons, more families are housing several generations under one roof.

  • There are some big benefits to multi-generational living situations — but also some big challenges.

  • Pay special attention to how the house itself is set up, how space is shared, and how needs and boundaries are communicated.

 


If the term “multi-generational living” conjures images from the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — seven family members sharing a cramped space — you are not alone. On the surface, the prospect of kids, grandkids, parents, and grandparents living under one roof might not sound like living your best life.

 

But the fact is, multi-generational living is becoming both more common and more inviting than ever. One-in-five Americans now lives under the same roof as their extended family members, according to the Pew Research Center — with adult couples sharing homes with their children and their elderly parents and, at times, their grandparents.

 

Importantly, Pew found many of these families are not doing so because of financial hardship or need. Instead, they are voluntarily choosing to come together, driven by perceived benefits and a rekindled desire for the type of family closeness that has faded in recent decades.

 

Of course, multi-gen living comes with its unique challenges and stressors. With that in mind, here is a look at the multi-gen trend — its pros and cons — and some ways to navigate this environment if you ever want or need to incorporate it into your own family situation.


Why is Multi-Generational Living Becoming More Common?

The number of people living in multi-generational family households quadrupled during the 50-year period from 1971 through 2021, according to the Pew Research Center, with the total number approaching 60 million.

 

There are several factors prompting family members of various ages to live together. For one thing, many people are simply living longer than in generations past. Data from the United Nations shows that there were around 90,000 people aged 100 and over living in the U.S. in 2021 — nearly double the number there were 20 years prior. Rather than relocate to a nursing home or other assisted-living arrangement, these older Americans are increasingly moving in with their adult children — who may have young or teenage children of their own.

 

Along with the increased number of elderly Americans comes a host of health care challenges. For instance, more than 6 million citizens nationwide are currently living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double to 13 million.

 

The multi-gen door swings both ways, however. In some cases, it is adult children living with parents — often temporarily, for financial reasons.

 

Regardless, Pew’s research shows that families multi-gen living enjoy it. Example: 57% of adults in multi-gen households say the experience has been very or somewhat positive. Most say the experience of living with family members of different ages has been “convenient and rewarding,” bringing generations closer together; some cite perks such as extra sets of hands to do household chores. Just 17% report a somewhat or very negative experience.


Navigating the Multi-Gen World

One of the biggest benefits family members of all generations often get from multi-gen living is the ability to bond with each other and share wisdom and ideas much more easily. Younger kids can learn hard-won lessons from grandparents who have lived full lives, while those kids can introduce the grandparents to fresh ideas and fun activities they have never encountered. Proximity can be the jumping-off point for greater mutual respect.

 

Lisa Cini, founder of the Columbus, Ohio-based Mosaic Design Studio, which specializes in projects related to senior living and independent care communities agrees. She is an expert in designing spaces for dementia patients and other long-term care designs. She is also the author of Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, which draws on her own personal experience living with several generations at once.

 

“To be able to be together organically and develop deep relationships and hear stories, share heartaches and celebrations, is priceless: Wisdom is shared, deep connections are made,” said Cini. “My children are much wiser, patient, and loving because of living in a multi-generational family. My parents and grandmother were able to be not just bystanders in their lives but active contributors to their overall well-being.”

 

That said, multi-gen living comes with plenty of challenges to navigate. That is true even if you have a large enough space to comfortably house lots of family members and give each of them a level of privacy and autonomy — or have the funds to build an addition or other space to make that happen.


Tips, Strategies, and Hacks

Based on her design expertise and firsthand experience, Cini suggests the following tips, strategies, and hacks for making multi-gen living a positive experience for all involved.

 

  1. Be clear-eyed going into any multi-gen situation. There are some big potential benefits of multi-gen living that are easy to see—such as reduced monthly living expenses, comfort and security for elderly family members, and reliable childcare (if those grandparents are able to offer it). But do not let the pluses blind you to the downsides and risks, which can include squabbles about household bills and chores, reduced privacy, elders being resentful about being used as free babysitting, and disagreements about how living space is set up and shared. Make a pros and cons list and look to address any potential areas of conflict well before family members move in, if possible.

 

  1. Stay flexible. When her kids were still in high school, Cini had plans to have her own parents move in with her and her husband eventually. But then it became apparent that her 92-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s would also need a safe place to stay. So, plans changed. Recognizing there was not enough room for her grandmother, her parents, and her kids, Cini sold her home and bought a bigger one that was able to house four generations under one roof.

 

  1. Balance privacy and community. Wherever possible, make separate, private spaces for family members. Everyone should have their own bedroom—and ideally, if it is at all doable, their own separate wing of the house with their own private means of entrance and exit. Spaces for seniors should be customized appropriately for their special needs (see “How to equip your home for elderly family members”). At the same time, it is important not to forget the value of common areas like living rooms and kitchens to foster family togetherness.

 

  1. Discuss boundaries and personal preferences regularly. Setting clear boundaries around space and schedules — and generally keeping everyone under the roof aware of and accountable to the needs and feelings of their family members — are hugely important, but also much easier said than done. Cini offered an example from her home: “I would work late and not communicate this and cause a lot of hurt feelings. But the solution was easy: Don’t set a plate for me unless I called ahead.” With kids’ after-school sports, business travel, and more, “it’s not always easy to sit down at a meal together,” she acknowledged. “No one should be made to feel guilty for not being able to — as long as you’re respectful and give notice ahead of time.”

 

  1. Talk it out when frustrations crop up. “It’s hard to have chats about splitting up the cleaning and cooking, who gets to watch TV when, who can have guests spend the night, who didn’t lock the door, who owns the kitchen, and who pays for what,” said Cini. But those are exactly the issues that need to be discussed to avoid resentments and keep a multi-gen home humming along.

 

  1. Make time for shared family experiences. Beyond having meals together, schedule a regular game night or movie night, or create a space in the house where common activities can be done together.

 

In all cases, says Cini, the “3 Cs” — connection, contribution, and communication — are essential:

 

  • Connection. It is important to foster new ways to love and laugh together — and better to stave off potential conflicts when they arise. It is worth remembering that rather than just being housemates of different ages, everyone under that roof is a family. Share stories, tell jokes, have a weekly game night.

  • Contribution. For Cini, this one means, “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has to pitch in.” In her house, all family members have chores or are responsible for some financial contribution to the greater good. “The worst thing is to feel like a burden,” she said. “This allowed everyone to feel they had skin in the game to make it all successful.”

  • Communication. This is perhaps the most obvious — but also the most challenging. Everyone in the home should be clear about schedules, boundaries, and responsibilities — who’s coming to dinner and who will be out, what food in the fridge is off limits, who’s responsible for cleaning the bathroom — and recognize and respect each other’s private spaces and need for “me time.” When lines of communication are wide open, the living situation is much easier for everyone.

 

How to equip your home for elderly family members

 

When it comes to outfitting a house for new senior occupants, Cini champions what she calls the LOVE method:

 

  • Light. Ensure there’s enough natural light in all spaces, and install lighting — on sensors, if necessary — on stairways, under counters, etc. At the same time, sleeping areas should be free from light pollution where possible.

  • Optimize. Multifunctional items designed for elders’ convenience and safety should be installed throughout the house: heating and vents for the bathroom, grab bars in the shower, intuitive controls for thermostats, easy-to-understand entertainment systems and remotes, a doorbell that also has a passcode and a camera, etc.

  • Visual. Spaces should be accommodating for seniors who might have sight or cognitive impairment. “This might mean having a smart fridge that has notes on it to take their vitamins or to remember to drink water,” said Cini, who also suggests keeping items in areas where they are easy to reach and painting the wall behind the toilet in a contrasting color so that it is easier to see.

  • Ease. Technology should be used to maximize simplicity and ease of use — and reduce the friction technology itself can cause. Use smart lighting, but also add remote switches for older residents who may not be interested in conversing with Google and Alexa. Have all appliances, HVAC, and cameras and security connected to a smart app so you can easily check to make sure everyone is safe when you are away from home.

 

Investment advisory services offered through intellicents investment solutions, inc., an SEC registered investment adviser. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, and CFP® (with plaque design) in the United States, which it authorizes use of by any individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliance, but its accuracy is not guaranteed. There is no representation of warranty as to the current accuracy, reliability, or completeness of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information, and it should not be relied on as such.

 

This report was published by the VFO Inner Circle, a global financial concierge group working with affluent individuals and families and is distributed with its permission. Copyright 2024 by AES Nation, LLC. All rights reserved.

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