Issue Date: August 26, 2007
Will you be taking care of your parents soon?
More and more families are trying "multigenerational living." Could you make it work? Our checklist may help.
By Ann Pleshette Murphy
Mike and Jody Malterre moved to Eagle, Idaho, from California 13 years ago to find a new place where they could watch their family grow. They succeeded in more ways than one. The couple welcomed two daughters -- along with Mike's mother and her husband, who chose to move to Idaho to be close to their grandchildren.
"My mother was essentially sick for a year because she wasn't living where her grandkids were," Mike recalls. His mother and stepfather's move led to another dramatic change a few years later. The Malterres purchased a farm with a few acres, where they built two houses: one for themselves and a smaller guesthouse 16 feet away for Grandma and Grandpa.
"If you had asked me 10 years ago if I thought this is what I was going to do, I would have said, 'No way,' " Jody says. "But if you asked me now if I would do anything different, I'd say, 'No way.' "
The Malterres are not alone. Today, there are approximately 4 million so-called multigenerational American households, a number that has jumped 38% since 1990, according to the most recent analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"The national trend is for families to stay connected or reconnect instead of dispersing all over the country," says John L. Graham, co-author with sister Sharon Niederhaus of Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living. Why the surge? Among the factors, Graham says, is a combination of rising life expectancies and dwindling pensions.
Although some may blanch at the idea of living with parents -- or in-laws -- many are finding that living in tandem has it pluses, financially and emotionally. Older and younger generations can help care for one another, family relationships can be strengthened, and living costs can be shared.
Still, it's not for everyone. Many people can't spend a weekend with their families, let alone the latter part of their lives. Positive family dynamics are key to making it work. Before you make any move, here are some guidelines for living under the same roof, or as neighbors:
Vacation together first to see if close proximity drives you crazy or fuels your excitement about a permanent arrangement.
Address legal and financial issues upfront, and put everything in writing. Call a professional if you foresee obstacles: for example, whether Grandma's new guesthouse should be part of your siblings' inheritance.
Create ground rules early on. If Grandma lives next door, decide if she will call first or just knock when visiting. And lay out acceptable guidelines when it comes to the kids. Junk food was fine when she visited a few times a year, but it's not OK every day. And don't assume that grandparents are built-in babysitters or that adult children will be on-call taxi drivers.
Communicate clearly and often. Graham and the Malterres stress the need to talk about problems that arise. And try to focus on the positive.
Finally, discuss when to stop living together. Eventually, aging grandparents may need more assistance than you're capable of providing. Talk about what you will do if that time comes. And if it does, give yourself a break. "We hear often, 'I promised her I'd always take care of her,' " says AARP's Elinor Ginzler. "Remember, even if she's not living in your house, you are still taking care of her."
Contributing Editor Ann Pleshette Murphy is ABC's "Good Morning America" parenting expert.
Go to top
Consider these housing tips before inviting your parents to move in:
Do your homework. If you want to build a separate house on your property, research your city's regulations. In some communities, you must designate a second house as a guesthouse so that your property isn't considereda neighborhood.
Think ahead. Consider what you want your home to look like in 10 years. When making changes to accommodate your expanded family, incorporate universal designs that could work for a wheelchair or a baby carriage.
Be creative. Often, you can close off a hallway with a door, transform a basement into a livable apartment with a kitchen, make a bedroom out of a living room, or convert a ground-floor window into an entryway.
Divide to unite. If possible, create separate entrances and kitchens, advises author Niederhaus. "They allow forproximity with privacy, two keys to successful multigenerational living."