The Happy Return of Multigenerational Families
BY JAIA LENT
When Jessica Winn and her husband became pregnant with their first child in suburban Maryland, they knew they would have help. Jessica appreciated that her mother-in-law, Maria, was willing to move in with them and help care for their daughter as she had done for her other grandchildren. “As each of her children had children, they would move in with her, or she would move in with them and support each other, especially through the early stages,” shared Jessica. Not only did Maria move in for the arrival of their first child, but she has stayed through the birth of their second, as well. This arrangement is not new, but according to a new Generations United report, Family Matters: Multigenerational Living on the Rise and Here to Stay, multigenerational households have nearly quadrupled over the last decade. The pandemic brought many families together to support one another and now they plan to stay together for the long term.
“According to a new nationwide poll commissioned by Generations United in early 2021, six in 10 multigenerational* families were created or continued due to the pandemic.”
Shared households among generations remain central to many cultures in the U.S. and were the norm in most families for centuries. Post-World War II, however, brought many changes including a shift away from living with those outside the nuclear family. Recently that seems to be changing.
According to a new nationwide poll commissioned by Generations United in early 2021, six in 10 multigenerational* families were created or continued due to the pandemic. The majority, seven in 10 of those families, plan to continue the arrangement long-term. While the economic climate was a key factor, eldercare and childcare were also significant drivers for coming together.
Dulce Medina and her 22-year-old daughter, Neina, moved in with Dulce’s aging mother, Elvira, after her father became ill and subsequently passed away. They did not think twice about moving out and they remained living together. The flexibility of Dulce’s job allows her to help care for her mother who has diabetes and glaucoma. However, like other families, there is more than one benefit to living together. In addition to helping one another, she is also glad her daughter is learning family and cultural customs. “My daughter is a better cook than me, so she’s learning that process from my mother, just picking up the traditions that I think are very valuable to us.” Dulce echoes survey findings that show 98 percent of multigenerational families say their household functions successfully, even with the stress of living arrangements and keeping her mother safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multigenerational households were found to not only enhance family bonds, but the arrangement can also have a positive impact on both the mental and physical health of family members. Also, these arrangements can improve family financial standing and allow family members to continue school or enroll in job training. These and other benefits are leading more families to live in multigenerational families.
Every multigenerational family is unique and provides a specific set of strengths and challenges.
If you are considering or are new to multigenerational living, here are a few tips to consider in that transition.
MULTIGENERATIONAL LIVING: 10 TIPS FOR FAMILIES
- Maximize the opportunity for intergenerational exchange, celebrating and drawing upon each other’s strengths. Build relationships through shared activities across the generations such as learning together, family cooking and meals, entertainment, sharing family and cultural history.
- Design or modify homes to incorporate universal and inclusive design principles for all ages and abilities. Create private spaces for each family member as well as shared gathering spaces. Maximize the number of bathrooms and bedrooms and consider expanding household space, including accessory dwelling units that provide separate living space.
- Discuss finances, including an agreement on a budget, who will pay for which expenses, and how payments will be made.
- Promote open communication and clarify rules, roles, and responsibilities through family meetings, informal conversations, or even a “suggestion box”.
- Acknowledge stress and arrange for mental health support for all household members when and if needed.
- Establish routines as a tool to ease transitions as well as day-to-day functioning.
- Create realistic expectations, including time spent together, privacy, responsibilities, compromises, the benefits, and the sacrifices that will be made.
- Encourage personal care time by finding ways to allow each household member to have time and space for themselves.
- Find resources and supports that meet your unique family situation/challenges.
- Be open about your multigenerational living situation. Share the successes and seek support from friends for the challenges. Raise awareness about the benefits of living in multigenerational households.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JAIA LENT
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
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