Multi-Generational Households Offer Many Benefits

After my mom’s death last September, my wife and I (and our kids) moved to a new home configured to allow my grandfather to live with us. After my parent’s divorce when I was very young, my grandfather assumed a father-figure role for me my entire life. In fact, I think of him as a dad, and he often calls me “son.” We remain very close.

While my grandfather has enjoyed relatively good health, even into his 80s, there are a number of things that were becoming difficult for him. We moved in together with the idea we could help him, but as it turns out, it has been a mutual blessing.

By diannam on Flickr

Impact on Young Children

I believe it is good for young children to be around older generations when they are young. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents while my mom was working, and even when she wasn’t. We were always very close. As I got a little older, my grandfather and I took frugal camping trips up and down the East Coast – from Florida to Maine (and even Canada).

Those camping trips provided some of the fondest memories I have of my youth. Just the two of us, in an old van my grandfather rigged to double as a camper. No distractions. No television. No games (other than cards and a chess board). We packed a cooler of meats and rations, and cooked by camp stove nearly every night. He shared stories from his youth as one of nine brothers and sisters growing up in the depression. He shared war stories from his time in the Marines in Korea and Vietnam.

My children are now hearing many of these same stories, and learning more about that greatest generation. It has made them more frugal, more mature, and more engaged in things like history and politics.

I would even venture to say my grandfather’s proximity to his great-grandchildren has kept him young as well. Losing his daughter (my mom), was an especially difficult thing for him – for any parent – to go through. Rather than grieving alone, we are all together, and surrounded with the youthful optimism of children that helps offset the sad times.

Financial Benefits

The financial benefits are obvious – rather than my family paying for a home, and my grandfather paying for living space, we all live together and pool our resources. Obviously, with a wife and two kids, we eat the bulk of the food, use the majority of the utilities, and take up the most space. But we worked out an arrangement with my grandfather that allows him to still save significantly over buying or renting, while helping us offset some of the monthly household costs. It’s a win-win situation.

Is a Multi-Generational Household Right for Everyone?

Of course not. Just as there is no one-size fits all solution to most family issues, sharing living space with parents, grandparents, and children doesn’t work for everyone. Some parents wouldn’t want to be around their kids and grand-kids 24/7. I get that. Sometimes you need a break.

Not everyone has a home with a spare bedroom, in-law suite, etc. configured to allow a parent to move in with them while maintaining privacy for everyone. Others may not be able to sort out the sharing of expenses and allow it to become a relational issue that would cause more harm than good.

However, if you have the opportunity to share your household with an older member of your family, I encourage you to consider the benefits. You will likely find that they offer much more to your family than you can repay with cheap living space.

Comments

  1. I wish that my mother’s group had not decided long ago that it was a sign of weakness and poverty to live with your child. You constantly hear “you don’t want to be a financial burden”. I would love for my mother to live with me- and my daughter and her family to live next door. This is something that is wrong with the US culture. The elderly should not be alone. The people raising children should have family near by.

  2. It is something somewhat unique to our culture, Jan. Many other cultures have multi-generational households, and in my opinion, are better for it. I know it isn’t always possible to settle in the same area your parents did, but when possible, it sure makes things easier.

  3. My grandfather lived with my parents till the end of his life. I work for them part time so they got to spend at least a whole day every other week with him. My children enjoyed spending time with him. My middle daughter loves being with older people so they became very close. He passed away about 3 years ago and my older two still have fond memories and talk about him quite a bit. It hurt them to lose him, but they now have memories for a lifetime of their great-grandfather.

    I know that one day we will gladly take care of each of our folks. I hope to have them living close to us before too much longer, especially my folks as their health is not as good as it once was.

    I’m so glad your family is able to do this. You won’t ever regret the fond memories you will have!

    • I meant that my children got to spend quite a bit of time with him while I went to work for my parents!

      We have an Amish background so taking care of your parents is very important to us.

      My grandfather was still Amish so it was nice for my children to spend time with him and realize the values I received while growing up.

  4. What a wonderful post. You and your grandfather are both lucky to have each other in their lives.

    My grandmother could not live with me, but I was her guardian for the last 5 years of her life. I was with her daily along with my little kids. The kids brought her some joy and my kids really enjoyed visiting. (May have been the fudgcicles they got from her freezer too :) ) But I often reflect on what my kids learned from her at a very young age, and it also got them comfortable with older people, illness, etc.

    I wish your grandfather much health! I can’t imagine how much he appreciates having a loving family welcome him like you have.

    • Everyday Tips said, “But I often reflect on what my kids learned from her at a very young age, and it also got them comfortable with older people, illness, etc.”

      This is a very interesting point. It does seem to up the maturity level of young children to be around older people, even when they are sick. Many insulate their kids from death and disease, but it is a part of life.

      Of course, the level of exposure depends on the child’s age and somewhat on the condition the person is in. But letting them experience this phase of life helps them not take their own health for granted.

      Because my mom was wheelchair-bound the last year of her life, and talked a little “funny” after her stroke, I could see kids shy away from her in stores, or when we were out and about. My kids have no problems interacting with and being more compassionate for those in a similar situation.

      As I mentioned, I grew up close to my grandfather. One of his brothers was mentally impaired and in a nursing home setting. My grandfather visited him nearly every day until he passed away a few years ago.

      I went along on many of those nursing home visits and became desensitized (in a good way) to various ailments most elderly patients experience. Little did I know it was preparing me for helping care for my mom, and now my grandfather, later in life.

  5. My mom needs more care now, so she lives with my sister full-time and I take her one day a week to give my sister a break.

    It’s great for everyone to have more quality time together and it definitely reduces expenses.

  6. I never thought of asking for ‘rent’ from my mother if she asked to live w/us. I don’t know that I could accept money, but it would make everything more bearable!

    You are lucky that you get along w/your grandfather so well…my husband and I are private and I personally don’t know any other relatives/friends who would open up their homes for their parents as permanent living quarters unless there was a dire need (i.e. indigent/infirm parents). It is a shame that adult/child relationships are often stressful.

  7. Not sure if that last sentence reads correctly: I meant that parents and their adult children often have stressful relationships

  8. This is such a great idea. We have three generations living in my house and it is an enormous blessing in so many ways!

    My parents moved in with us 6 years ago. We all benefit from this. They have great wisdom and plenty of time to help and encourage all of us. We have large dinners for holidays or anytime. We do have a separate living space for them, which is wonderful.

    This is something our family is used to. Growing up, my grandparents lived with us as well. I wish it was a more common practice.

    Blessings,
    Mrs. White

  9. Until about 75 years ago, multi-generational households were the norm, not the exception. Then we became a mobile culture and all moved off the farms and into cities. We invented the nursing home for when aged parents became too inconvenient. Not slamming on people here who like their privacy, but we do lose something very precious by not learning to serve and care for our parents–even at times when we would prefer more space. We forget what it means to serve and to love in the deepest sense. Sure you can still love your parents even in a nursing home, but not in the same way as when they are a part of your life each day.

  10. My maternal grandfather died when I was an infant.It was too hard for my grandmother to stay in that home so she began living with different family members from that point until shortly before her death.I cherished the time she was with our family but it was she who introduced me to the nearly lost art of writing letters.My fondest memories are of getting something in the mail from her when she was living someplace else.It helped keep us connected,even though she was 1500 miles away.
    I loved hearing her tell stories of WW2 and the great depression.She was a real life “rosie the riveter” in the Kaiser shipyards here in California. The family moved from the dust bowls of Kansas and Missouri to California during the war to find work,which was a story in itself!

  11. Another point worth mentioning is that I am blessed to have such a wonderful wife, agreeing, and even encouraging, this arrangement. Many spouses would have none of it.

  12. This is probably the best post you’ve had so far! I live in a multi-generational household. We are 3 generations on the weekdays and 4 generations on the weekends. It’s very endearing seeing my 2-year old try to teach his 90-year old great-grandmother how to work the DVD. It’s so much more than mere financial gain. I think if more families in the US lived in multi-generational households, we wouldn’t have as many behavioral problems with kids. I always think that if I show respect to my parents, my kids will show me that same respect. Kids learn from mimicking us.

  13. We just lost my step-dad, and while all of us kids have asked Mom to move in with us, she at 81 remains stubbornly independent :) , so until such time as she is ready, I don’t see it happening. But any of us would welcome her.

    I live across the street from 2 of my grandkids – and as my daughter is a single parent, working, and going thru college, those two are as much at home at my place as their own – and they have their own room in my house. I think they benefit from having to help an older woman with chores, gardening (they love it), firewood, cooking, and dishes. They learn some of the traditional values, as well as having someone play all those games with them :) and I get someone to snuggle up with while watching disney movies :)

  14. I think it would help tho to not have two very kitchen-possessive people tho to make it work…. the kitchen can be a place of friction :)

    • Ha! So true! What’s that old saying about too many chefs in the kitchen?

      My grandfather used to do all the cooking when my grandmother was alive, but in poor health. Now that he lives with us, he has pretty much “retired” from the kitchen, but still tries to get in on the cleaning up.

  15. I grew up in my Memere’s house (the same house my father grew up in). At one point there were 9 living there. (thankfully, it was a large colonial with 4 bedrooms). I still remember sitting on Memeres lap learning how to crochet, or play cards, or write my letters. (my Pepere has passed before I was born and my moms’ parents were already gone also). I think more children should experience their grandparents as more than a ‘holiday or eery now and then visit’. My mom is still alive and lives in the city I grew up in. It’s one hour away and she lives in senior housing. A few of my siblings have asked her to move in with them, but she likes her freedom of having her own space. (we only have a 2 bedroom home). She instead visits with each of us for weeks at a time during the year so at least my son has time to share with her during her visit. My inlaws live in that same city and have stated that they would never live with their children. I find that sad. Although, as stated before, it’s difficult for the spouse to have the in-laws move in! I love my in-laws, but living with them full time would drive me crazy after a while! I know my husband would feel the same way about my mom. Overall though, I think more families should think about it…besides, once they’re gone, they’re gone and you can’t get those experiences back. :)

  16. I think it is interesting that the American culture is to run as far away from our families as possible. It doesn’t seem to be that way anywhere else in the entire world. Only in America would we be reading an article about this topic and debating the pros and cons of such arrangements!

    With that said, thanks for bringing it up. I think family is something that is too often taken for granted these days. We think people will always be there tomorrow when the reality is that they might not be.

    I moved away from my hometown and I haven’t seen my mother since Christmas. I haven’t seen my brother for a couple of years. Even though we still talk on the phone about once a week or so, it isn’t the same as having a close family that I am able to spend time with. I also don’t see things being much different in the future.

    If living in a multigenerational home isn’t the answer for you, it is still important to make people and family a priority. Call them or stop by for a visit. I’m sure they would love to see you.

  17. I had to post on this. My grandfather and grandmother used to babysit me while my mother was at work when I was growing up. As a matter of fact my grandmother is the one who saw my first steps. :) I am also named after her. Both of my grandparents are gone now. I loved them both but I totally relate to the father figure role. I spoke at his funeral of my grandfather being my hero.
    I tend to have more of thier values and relate better to them than I do my own mother. My mother is very “modern” in her thinking and values and this sometimes actually causes friction between us because I so strongly think that my grandparents way is the “right way”
    My aunt said one day that of all the grandkids I was the most like them and I took that as the greatest compliment I have recieved. Its funny to be 32 years old and shake your head at your parents being too modern LOL

  18. I really like this topic, and find it fascinating, frankly. One’s reaction to the idea is strongly influenced by cultural expectations, in my opinion. Social norms, and individual expectations come into play as well.

    For me, there is great honor in being able to take care of parents in old age. Mine were fantastic to me and made a lot of sacrifices for me. I like to think that fair is fair, and we don’t get something for nothing. They sacrificed for me – I want to sacrifice for them.

    The ability to make this work can depend on the situation, but certainly living close by geographically makes a big difference in what one can do. Living WITH an elder is not always easy, as every person is different. Additionally, if you want your own parent to live with you, how can you turn away an in-law? Lots of potentially thorny issues could arise, but there are some real benefits to intergenerrational living arrangements:

    1) Honor – what a source of pride, to feel like you are doing the right thing
    2) Better care for the elder – this could be debatable, but living at home with family could provide an elder much more love and companionship than on their own or at a facility. That is “mental” care. Additionally, the true feelings behind help will be greater with family.
    3) Knowlege – elders often have a lot of wisdom, that could be passed on to the younger generations (including us adults!)
    4) Grandkids – your kids could develop a close relationship with their grandparent, which is a special thing they will always remember and treasure, and will learn from. There will be lessons they can apply and pass on to their future generations.
    5) Financial – ah, yes…as a personal finance blogger I have to touch on this one. When you share overhead, you reduce costs. One home vs two reduces property tax expenditures, utilities, etc. There are other cost savings as well, some major, but in simple terms there can be “family” savings by pooling resources.

    Great topic.

  19. When my Father in Law got ill with Alzheimers, my Mother in Law tried to care for him having been a nurse early in life & did so by herself in a very small community with no family support nearby, closest being 500 miles – us. A few of years ago, I gave her minister my card & yes, one tuesday at dinner time the call came. We traveled that friday when the kids got out of school, went to church and met with him following & decided to have them move in with us as support for him was much more available in our community. He entered a group home where it just happens that my favoite teacher who still remembered me was just down the hall. Visiting was painful to some as he did not know any of us. ( I consider Alzheimers to be a picture in puzzle form of a persons life & the pieces falling out ALWAYS being the one thing most dear to their loved ones) He did however perk up and was delighed to see the kids, which gave me the support in knowing that he was comfortable & pain free. He’s gone now & my Mother in Law is on a bucket trip with another in law touring the country seeing places they dreamed about but had never been. She’ll be with us for many years to come & I am now learning why my wife left the home at 18 for her training marriage. She and I get along fine, each know when to allow the other space & after all, the White House is leading the way in this. It’s the worlds way & we’re now a global community. The American Nucular Family has been gone for some time now… Take Care

  20. My Nana lived with us since I was 9 years old and it was the BEST for a kid to have a loving grandmother around. My mom, on the other hand, still complains to this day about having to live with her MIL — I think she had it made — Nana did all the cooking, most of the cleaning and was a built in babysitter when my parents went out (frequently) or travelled (also frequently) — I hope to be a grandmother to my grandkids someday like mine was to me — she taught me so much and was always ready with a loving hug when needed.

  21. My fiance’s family is from Peru and have a multi-generational family home and it worked for them and I wish my mom had bought a home with my grandmother when my grandmother offered (my mom was too proud and independent to do so) but I dislike the attitude a lot of people that have these home have. There may be reasons why an adult child would be unwilling to have a parent move in (for example abusive behaviors towards the adult as a child) and we should not be saying what other should be doing, it is up to them.

  22. Thanks for sharing this post. While we don’t have very much of an inter-generational home at my house. I volunteer with a group of middle school girls and one of their favorite activities is volunteering at a nursing home. Going and having lunch with residents, who are excited to see them and love to talk with them and just hang out and help out. Definitely makes the residents feel younger and my girls have connections with people outside their families and peers.

  23. In a world where there are so many “only’ children whose parents have died, and there are no other relatives, we need to think about sharing our households in an even broader sense.

    Given the way things are in the world, especially for older folks whose age and health work against them in terms of working later/longer, more and more folks are going to need to live with others if they are to not end up homeless.

    I see people with huge homes , may of which have permanently empty bedrooms as they either have no children or they are grown and gone, and I think: Wow, if only they could open up their hearts and homes to others who need a home with real people and not an institution.

    Given my age and the economy, I’m more than a bit fearful that I’ll have no place I can afford in a few years. (Yes, I’d like to work until I drop. That’s not really an option from what I’ve seen, however.) That describes me and a lot of other single women I know who have worked for years (and who have paid for educations of others, and given a lot of money away freely to others) and really don’t have all that much to show (How much can you save on low salaries someone once asked me. Good question.) for it.

    My “fantasy” is communities of like-minded older individuals sharing resources, space, etc. and providing support for each other and being “housed” in ALFs or “retirement” communities per se.

    Let’s be frank. All of us want to continue to live in our homes or apartments if we possibly can. If we can’t due to finances, we certainly want to share a space with others like ourselves.

    More people should think about sharing their homes, and not just families. In fact, it’s often easier for strangers to share than family members, because strangers have to start with respect for others and don’t have entitlement issues that many family members have.

    What a blessing that you are 1/so close to your grandfather and 2that you have the space available. And yes, a supportive spouse.

  24. We did this a few years back when our kids were little. The in-laws moved in to help them get ready for retirement and it also helped us getting into the housing market. We had a split level home and they had the downstairs with a well set up wet bar.
    My kids had to knock and try not to be down there all the time, but they were anyways. My son is now almost 15 and his bond with his grandpa is still strong even 5 years later.
    We refer back to this time often, and we too agree it is a memory that our kids will always remember. They only lived with us for 2 1/2 years, but it was so awesome.
    I encourage anyone that is even considering it to give it a try.

  25. it’s almost a year now that we are living with my mother-in-law. we are actually occupying her old office at the underground level of her house. we did this for a number of reasons: I was expecting my 2nd baby and we were living in an apartment where there’s no elevator(ours was in the last floor-5th), then my father-in-law passed away.
    so we converted the office into our home now, just in front of the river – where my gals can enjoy nature, just like I did when I was growing up in our village in the Phils. with my grandma,of course ;-)

    My daughters are enjoying the company of their grandmother and at the same time my husband is re-forging his relationship with his mom.

  26. Like Nancy from Mass, my MIL has stated on a number of occasions that children should never live too close to their parents. While we all live within 5 miles of each other and have a close relationship, she feels that even living next door would be unhealthy. When I hear her say that it makes me sad. I live exactly one mile from my parents and to be honest, it’s not close enough! When my husband was out of town during a snow storm this past winter I would have loved to be living right next door! I would happily take in any of our parents, although living with my MIL would be a potential strain on our relationship. No matter the personality there would be plenty of challenges, but how is that different from raising children? Sometimes the most difficult things we do in life are also the most rewarding.

  27. And what happens when your stepson, some 45 years younger than you, is a controlling narcissist who hits, shoves, screams, denigrates and intimidates when you express an opinion or do something he doesn’t like?

    What if your spouse is afraid of intervening, or gets into the “can’t we all just get along” mode, which just enables such behavior? Nothing worse than trying to fix the un-fixable.

    Example: “maybe” on your part becomes a threatening, or physically abusive, “YOU PROMISED!!” if a decision doesn’t go his way. Next thing you know you’re being bounced along a hallway while getting screamed at for some minor tiff.

    It’s better to not take the risk: once offspring are out of the house, KEEP THEM THERE!! I’d rather live alone in a seniors apartment.

  28. That’s called Domestic Violence – and one phone call to 911 and the kid would be in jail. Period. Then you can take out an immediate restraining order.

    Contact your local Women’s Crisis Center for help and assistance if you need it.

    Been there – done that. And I know it can be a hard decision to make for financial reasons sometimes – but there is always another choice that does not include violence.

  29. “Contact your **local Women’s Crisis Center** for help and assistance if you need it.”

    I don’t pass the physical: 6’1″/300 lb former defensive tackle, now 60 and partly disabled.

  30. Protected innocent: Sorry – the post didn’t specify gender….Still contact them… they can refer you to help also – it’s not just for women. There is also help for Elder abuse and violence towards the disabled. Those are all jailable offenses !!!

    It is still Domestic Violence, and you can still get a restraining order…. I realize that wrecks havoc in a marriage, but aren’t you worth it??? Reach out for help!

    I do not attempt to tell you what to do, obviously each case is different, and everyone has to chose for themselves…. I chose to get out, start over with basically nothing, and in debt over my head for a long time, living in a 10×16 ft efficiency apt. But it was worth it to me to have the peace in my life. Prayers for you also!

  31. After my father passed away I sold my house & moved in with my mom. My daughter was on her own so I didn’t need a house anymore so I sold it. I have learned so much not to mention all the help we give each other. It is awesome. There are times when it can get to you, but I try to remember that she won’t be here forever and I want to spend all the time I can with her now. I love it, but I know not everyone could do it. I honestly do not know what I would do without her.

  32. We used to live about 10 miles from my parents and that was too close. About 5 yrs ago we were moving because of a job and ended up being in the same town as my in laws. We rented for about 18 months and then decided to look for a 2-family house(they are easy to find here in Germany) and we bought it together with my in laws. Almost 3 yrs later and we all love it! You are right that all generations learn from each other and we really enjoy having them so much a part of our lives.

  33. I’d love for any of our grandparents to live with us, but I don’t think my husband or I would look forward to having our parents live with us. We just get along better with our grandparents. It doesn’t help that our parents are opinionated and we are opinionated and those opinions don’t mesh, lol…

    I’m glad your grandpa and your family get along so well! I love hearing my grandpa’s war stories too.

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