Three generations under one roof
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Ke Yu
Could you live with your children or parents again? It may surprise you to hear that more people are giving it a try. Multigenerational households are making a comeback, says a recent report from the Pew Internet Research Center.
The report is based on U.S. statistics, but you can bet the rest of the world is watching too. The center’s analysis of recent census data shows an increase in the number of households that span three generations. Currently, an estimated 49 million Americans — about 16 per cent of the population — live in a multigenerational household. (There’s even one in the White House.) That’s an increase of 2.5 million people since 2007, and up 4 per cent from the lowest point in 1980. The proportion of multigenerational households hasn’t been this high in about 50 years, when numbers were decreasing following World War II.
Not surprisingly, Zoomers play a pivotal role. On average, one in five people over the age of 55 are living in a multigenerational home. If they aren’t opening their homes to their adult children — often with a partner or children in tow — then they’re welcoming a parent or loved one. In some cases, there’s a generation missing: grandparents are raising their grandchildren.
It’s no surprise that the economy plays a large role, but experts note there’s another trend at work — the aging of the population. These extended family households are returning to one of their original purposes: providing care and financial support. That’s why experts say we won’t likely see a reversal to this trend any time soon. In fact, we could see more multigenerational homes — and appropriate housing options like additions and in-law suites — in the next couple of decades.
Is the same thing happening in Canada? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a comparable study of recent data done here — but we do share some characteristics with our neighbour to the south. Statistics have shown that an increasing number of twenty-something adults are still living at home or are moving back home, and we’ll face many of the same challenges as other countries when baby boomers age. (See Back to the nest for details.)
What to consider before making a move
It may be a necessity for some, but multigenerational living isn’t for everyone. Experts warn to give it a lot of thought beforehand to make sure merging households is the best option. Here are some tips to help smooth the way:
– Ask yourself how this will affect your relationships. No matter what their ages, parents and adult children living together makes for some challenging family dynamics. Living under one roof can cause significant stress and strain to already tense relationships — or it can strengthen the bond between family members too.
– Think about the sacrifices (before you have to make them). You know the advantages — like saving money on housing, offering care and enjoying each other’s company — but don’t forget to look at the other side as well. What goals, routines and activities will be affected? What are you willing to give up, and for how long?
– Consider the accommodations. Is your current home up to the challenge, or will you need to do major renovations or even buy a new home? Do you need to free up a room, or build a separate apartment or suite? What modifications — like childproof areas, redecorating or assistive devices — will be required to make it safe and inviting for all ages?
– Devise a process for making decisions and dealing with issues. Who is the head of the household? It’s often hard to tell… that’s why it’s important to include everyone in family decisions. Regular check-ins, family meetings and discussions can help make sure everyone has a say and that everyone’s needs are being met.
– Look into the legal aspects. Moving in might not be as simple as you think. In some areas, you may require a permit or license to have a separate apartment in your home (especially when the space includes a second kitchen). If you’re considering purchasing a new home together, make sure you understand the legal implications of joint ownership — especially how it factors into an estate plan and future financial needs (like long-term care).
– Be flexible. You’ll learn a lot from trial and error once everyone is under one roof, so be ready to adapt your plans as needed. Circumstances will also change — like younger children growing up and moving out, or parents requiring more care due to their health.
– Seek support . Multigenerational households can be a big change, even when there’s a lot of harmony at home. Make sure to take care of yourself too, and seek out support before you need it — like friends, other family members, church or local organizations.