My house is your house…
It is not unusual, particularly following a death in the family, for multi-generations to consider living together. This blog addresses some of the opportunities as well as some of the difficulties, and offers tips for families considering the blending of multi-generations within one household.
Multi-generational households are not unusual in North America. According to the US Census Bureau and Stats Canada, the number of children living with their grandparents has increased substantially in the past decade. In the USA, 20% of these households have no parent present, and in Canada, where a single parent is living in the home with the grandparent, 65% of these grandparents are financially responsible for the household.
Let’s start with the advantages
Multi-generational homes offer a significant opportunity to deepen family bonds, enhance a sense of unity and establish a connection with history. Grandparents can play a central role in their grandchildren’s lives, transferring their wisdom and life experience. This is especially beneficial for passing along cultural heritage and traditions. The ability to share expenses and offer consistent and reliable child care are also major advantages. And ultimately, reciprocal care may be available to grandparents in response to acute episodic or potentially emerging chronic health conditions.
Equal consideration must be given to the potential difficulties
In addition to needing companionship, we also need our privacy. Limited or cramped space can be stressful, and ground rules should be established regarding what it means to respect each person’s possessions, space, time, and social activities. Different approaches to child rearing, discipline, nutrition, historical ethno-cultural practices, and house-keeping can create dissention and tension. Additionally, it can be easy to become dependent on specific family members and this creates the potential for these family members to feel exploited or taken advantage of. Caregiver stress and the risk for elder abuse (financial, psychological and/or physical abuse) increases when additional demands are placed on family structures that do not have established communication and conflict resolution strategies.
Tips for successful integration
- Multi-generational families present a significant opportunity for enriched family relationships and financial efficiencies; while at the same time, can also fan the flames of conflict and exploitation. Preparation and good communication can keep the environment safe and supportive – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- It is important to first identify and clarify expectations! By scheduling regular family conferences, everyone knows that there is an opportunity to raise concerns, express needs, and seek solutions. It is especially important to encourage the children to attend, to talk about how they expect their life to change, what they want, are most excited about, and what they fear about the move.
- Expectations regarding roles related to child discipline, the amount of babysitting, meal planning and preparation and the division of household chores need to be explored and confirmed. Parameters regarding privacy and space are important topics that also need to be addressed.
- Social activities are essential to our quality of life. The expectations about inviting friends into the home, entertaining, and entertainment must also be clarified. Fun time together is important, as well as the need for children to have time on their own, time alone with their parent(s), and exclusive time with the grandparents.
- Most of all, it is important for everyone to be realistic and prepared to compromise and adjust to the new family living arrangements. With a willingness to listen and hear others needs and perspectives, coupled with open dialogue and genuine respect, multiple generations living under one roof can be a transformative experience for all.