Multigenerational families provide benefits for everyone
Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
According to the Pew Research Center, 49 million people live in multigenerational families in the U.S. Many include adult children in their 20s. The trend to bring extended families together in one home is heavily influenced by factors like the struggling economy, a tough job market, the housing crunch, increased immigrants, parents returning to school, saving money for a home, inability to afford child care or preferring to have grandparents care for grandchildren, elderly parents needing care, and widows or widowers unable to live alone. Other factors include the increase in marital instability, the breakup of nuclear families and the remarriage of parents. Grandparents and step-grandparents are also becoming more important.
Living in a multigenerational family has numerous rewards for
all generations, including:
- Family members experience the high level of emotional bonding and closeness across generations.
- Grandparents provide important role models in the socialization of grandchildren. Grandchildren learn how to care for their elders.
- Spending time with children can bring purpose and meaning to the lives of older generations. For example, the physical demands of keeping up with kids and helping with homework make them feel younger, useful and active.
- Grandparents help grandchildren survive parents’ divorce by giving grandchildren undivided attention and helping when single parents are overwhelmed.
- Multifamilies have financial benefits for everyone involved. If grandparents are in good health and willing, they could help care for young children. Adult children living in the multifamily household can save money while going to school, finding a job or saving money to buy a home of their own.
- Family members provide constant companionship, as well as help reduce money strain and stress.
- Family members look after, help and support each other.
- Bringing family members together can be a joyful time to share and treasure for everyone in the family.
Multigenerational living also has its ups and downs. Moving into a new household can be challenging and everyone involved needs time to make adjustments. Family members may feel stressed with obligations like caring for elderly parents, babysitting, redefining roles, balancing the needs of different generations, space and privacy, and redistributing household responsibilities. Not all multigenerational families experience high levels of emotional closeness. Some multigenerational families may experience either significant conflict or detachment in relationships. Despite the financial benefits, living in a multigenerational household may strain family relationships.
Here are several suggestions for a meaningful and happy multigenerational family life.
- Set family meetings, a valuable tool for families, regularly. It is a time for sharing family concerns, joys and achievements, expressing thoughts or feelings, discussing issues, and making decisions. Family meetings work better when everyone is involved to keep communication going and reduce conflicts or misunderstandings.
- Communicate any household issues with all family members on a regular basis and address the issues before they become problems.
- Establish expectations and house rules to help create a functional and rewarding multigenerational family household. For example, set schedules for chores, meals and quiet time. Make sure everyone understands what is expected and how they fit into the big picture.
- Establish financial responsibilities and decide who will be responsible for which bills or how to divide or rotate the bills. Keep detailed records and have a specific budget so all adults in the house know their responsibilities.
- Have separate and shared space for all family members. Hold an open discussion to set clear rules regarding separate and shared spaces. Make sure the home is suitable for everyone in the family — there should be enough space for every family member, and the home should be safe for grandparents, aging parents and young grandchildren.
- Respect each other’s privacy. It is important to define personal boundaries and personal space. Recognize the importance of private time and family time for every family member. Parents and grandparents need interactions with their friends, while adult children need time with their peers and time for themselves.
- Be good role models by teaching children to respect older family members. Help children understand that grandparents and great-grandparents are special people with experiences that children can learn from. Children and grandchildren are watching how parents interact with their parents.
- Establish routines, family rituals and traditions to bring family members together. Spend quality time together by taking a walk together, having a family movie or game night, family story time, family history, family tea time, and special cooking or baking. These can also help build a bridge between the generations.
- Be flexible — review the rules and expectations to accommodate new circumstances. As the years go by, the rules or expectations may need to be changed. Re-evaluate how the house rules, financial or house responsibilities and expectations work for everyone in the family when something changes (e.g., new baby or someone’s health declines).
- Be nice and kind to each other. Before you criticize or correct a family member, think about all the things you love and appreciate about the person.
Generations United Fact Sheet (2009). Multigenerational Households.
Niederhaus, S., & Graham, E. V. (2007). Together again: A creative guide to successful multigenerational living. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.
Pew Research Center (2010). The return of the multi-generational family household. http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/752/the-return-of-the-multi-generational-family-household (accessed on March 20, 2010).
Last Updated 11/10/2010