Multigenerational living: the new normal

“To grandmother’s house we go,” may soon be an obsolete phrase. According to Pew Research, nearly 20% of Americans in 2016 lived in a multigenerational home, defined as a home where three or more generations exist under one roof.

As Americans face higher housing costs, rising costs of living, and childcare costs that may amount to nearly a third of a family’s take-home pay, multigenerational living can simultaneously decrease expenses and add more flexibility regarding childcare.

Also, as Baby Boomers are living longer (and facing increasing healthcare costs) multigenerational living provides a way for parents to simultaneously take care of their children and their own parents.

While the decision to move everyone under one roof may make financial or logical sense, the emotional impact this sort of living structure can vary from family to family. Some families experience hiccups in the transition to living under one roof, and some families may find family squabbles from ages ago rising to the surface based on new, closer quarters.

Here, the Brown family from Far Rockaway, NY shares why they made the decision to become a multigenerational family.

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How we became a multigenerational family

Vanda and Andrew, who met through mutual friends at a barbecue, settled in Far Rockaway, an ocean away from Vanda’s parents, Alexander and Svitlana, who lived in Ukraine. Being so far away was tough, and the distance felt even more pronounced when the couple had children.

While they Skyped and called on the phone, both Andrew and Vanda felt like their children— Andy, 6 and Sophia 3 — were missing out on having their grandparents involved in their day to day lives, and vice versa.

Also, the economic instability of Ukraine trickled to Vanda’s parents, and the Brown’s felt that relocating her parents would give them more stability. But the benefit for Andrew and Vanda was evident as well: Their children would get built-in babysitters just as invested in their children’s well-being as they were.

When Andy was first born they repeatedly applied for a visitor’s visa so that her parents could at least visit, but were denied. After some time they gave up and decided that they would try for permanent residency, which they were granted. Together, Andrew and Vanda talked through the financial and emotional implications of their decision, including making sure they discussed how it could impact their own relationship.

“They really wanted to spend time with their grandchildren,” says Vanda. At the end of the day, the benefits of inviting Vanda’s parents to move in outweighed any cons, like lack of privacy. “We thought it would be beneficial to us all to have them move in with us,” says Brown.

The Brown family — parents Andrew and Vanda, Vanda’s parents, Svitlana and Alexander, and kids Andy and Sophia — all live under one roof (and share one bathroom.)

How we make it work

The Browns had already purchased a multi-level home, with a finished basement that they had considered converting to a separate unit for tenants. But once the idea of Vanda’s parents moving in became a reality, the Browns realized they would need the extra space for them. Once they arrived in the United States, Andrew and his father-in-law got to work in renovating the house. “My father has golden hands,” says Vanda.

The main floor includes the kitchen and living room, which has become a communal space for both families. The setup can be cozy — the two families share one main bathroom — but overall, the situation has successfully worked for both parties.

Vanda and Andrew work from 7am-7pm. Vanda’s mom does most of the cooking. They drop off at the school bus every morning, and Vanda’s dad picks him up in the afternoon.

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What we get out of a multigenerational arrangement

While Andrew and Vanda appreciate that their childcare costs have dipped — Vanda’s dad excitedly waits at the bus stop every day and watches the Brown’s children until Vanda and Andrew finish work. Having built-in babysitting has been a huge help for Vanda and Andrew, and Vanda and Andrew are pleased their kids get to have a close relationship with their grandparents.

Andrew, who has Jamaican parents, has always wanted his kids to be familiar with their heritage and is thrilled that they have become fluent in Russian since their grandparents moved in. Andrew, whose parents live nearby, also appreciates that his kids now have two sets of grandparents to learn from. We are lucky that they have her parents and my parents to teach them about our families’ history,” says Brown.

Also, the Browns are relieved that they can help Alexander and Svitlana as they age. “My father-law was recently diagnosed with heart issues, and we were so happy that he was here so that we could take care of him,” explains Andrew.

Additional tips for families considering a multigenerational setup

While it’s smart to crunch the numbers and consider the financial impact of multigenerational living, it’s such a personal decision that needs to account for the wishes and lifestyles of all family members. If you’re considering going down the multigenerational family road, consider these tips to make sure the setup makes emotional sense, too.

Be honest with each other. Some families find it helpful to have a weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to talk schedules, issues that may have arisen, and to keep everyone on the same page regarding any challenges each family or individual may be facing. Others like to keep things more informal, but having an open line of communication can be essential.

Have separate areas. You may live in one house, but many families find specific zones for family members, along with clear rules about accessibility, to be a smart move in creating privacy for all. For example, if Grandpa and Grandma’s room is in the basement, it may be a rule to not go downstairs during certain hours or to wait until they get home if you need something from their space, instead of searching for it yourself.

Create a shared calendar. A shared calendar, either on the wall or in the cloud, can be a lifesaver in making sure everyone knows who is where, when. It’s also important to be respectful of babysitting or errand requests. Alternatively, some families work out a formal schedule, so everyone’s on the same page of what’s expected of them.

Talk timeline. The “everyone living under one roof” may have a natural end date, or the relationship may evolve, so checking in every six months or so can ensure everyone is still happy with the arrangement.

Consider outsourcing. If, say, cleaning is a major source of contention for your family, it may make sense to pool together resources and hire a housecleaner to come every week or so. The benefit of living together means being able to use all your resources — both time and money — for the good of the family, so indulging in outsourcing certain chores could make sense for everyone in the family.

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Cheryl S. Grant has reported for Reader’s Digest, Brides, Glamour, Details, Yoga Journal, Latina, Vanity Fair, Vogue, W, Family Circle, USA Today, MSN, Food Network, HGTV, Food Network and Learn Vest. She has covered numerous subjects, including tech, pop culture, gift guides, entertainment, family, psychology, fitness, nutrition, food, beauty, and fashion.

Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not endorse or provide the products, services and/or strategies discussed here.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC15DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Not all riders are available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is 0K71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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