When many Americans hear the term multigenerational household, their thoughts may turn to the old TV show “The Waltons.” The parents, John and Olivia, their seven children, and the grandparents, Zach and Esther, all lived together in a rambling farmhouse on Walton’s Mountain in Virginia. Set from 1933 through 1946, the show portrayed multigenerational living at its best. The ups and downs faced by the family in the post-Depression era, were all bearable because they had each other. Parents, grandparents, and siblings shared insights and advice, and although it wasn’t always easy, together they worked through a series of issues, such as financial woes, health problems, and moral dilemmas.
Even though families throughout the world have lived in multigenerational households for eons, it has not been the norm in the United States. In the last few years however, a variety of factors, including the rising costs of health care, child care, real estate and a sluggish economy, Americans are beginning to warm up to the idea of extended families living together under one roof. However, each generation represents a different set of potential challenges, which must be examined in order for a multigenerational household to work.
First off, make sure that all of the family members understand why the family has chosen to live together. That way, some members will not make false assumptions or have unfair expectations. In addition to the ones already mentioned above, here are several other reasons why families choose to share the responsibilities of running a household:
- Grandparents can help with childcare so parents can take on another job, go to school, or just save money.
- For a transition period, such as one that may be needed when one part of the family moves nearby and needs time to find a suitable home.
- To pool financial resources for a nicer, larger home that is closer to amenities that benefit the group, such as better schools, recreational facilities or medical care.
- Older parents or relatives can no longer live on their on and for whatever the reasons, reject moving into a nursing home or senior community.
- Sudden, unforeseen hardships, such as illness, divorce, death of a spouse, or job loss.
- So the children in the family can spend time with senior relatives, get to know them, and discover their family’s roots and traditions.
When the motivating factors have been established, it will be time to set up the framework of the household. Here are 5 tips to ensure this type of arrangements goes smoothly. These suggestions originally appeared in an AARP blog and are from aging expert, Amy Goyer.
- Establish rules regarding how and when the home’s spaces will be used and by whom. Have clear guidelines that can easily be understood from the perspective of the youngest to the oldest member of the household. For chores, TV or computer time, etc. use charts and checklists if necessary so the expectations are both clear and measurable.
- Determine how finances will be handled. Money is a sore spot in many families, but this is an excellent time to involve everyone and use it as a teachable moment. Goyer suggests to, “create a shared checking account in which all members of the household deposit funds; one family member could collect from the others and pay all the bills; or each could pay different household bills. Those with fewer resources could contribute in other ways, such as housecleaning or caregiving.”
- Make modifications to the home that will allow for privacy and safety for all ages. Using schedules for technology, TV, cooking, or bathroom time, gives everyone a turn. It is only natural for conflicts to arise, which is why, once again explaining how the system “should” work will be helpful. In many cases, the addition of extra living space may be a good idea and will only increase the home’s value.
- Connect with all of the family members on a regular basis. By participating in activities such as family game night or movie night, sharing meals, or attending sporting, recreational, or cultural events together, relationships should strengthen.
- Know that there will be ups and downs. Be pro-active, fair and positive when it comes to problem solving. To keep the peace, communication is vital. When all else fails, consider bringing in a family mediator to reach a solution that everyone can live with.
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