Ever since the 2008 Great Recession, large numbers of young people have chosen (or been forced because of finances) to move back home and live with Mom and Dad. But according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, nearly half of Americans who are in their 40s and 50s have a parent who is 65 years or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting an adult child. No wonder these understandably overwhelmed people are called members of the "sandwich generation."
Professional observers of this phenomenon refer to these households as either "intergenerational" or "multigenerational." Back in 1980, an estimated 28 million Americans — about 12 percent of the population at that time — lived in households with at least two adult generations (or a grandparent and at least one other generation). But by 2008, almost 50 million Americans, or 16% of the total U.S. population, were living under those conditions.
There are, of course, natural and understandable stressors involved whenever three generations live under a single roof. But there are also a variety of both personal and social benefits. Dr. Joshua Coleman, a private psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area, told U.S. News and World Report that adults who share living accommodations need to be "able and willing to communicate what they want, what they're willing to do, and what they're not willing to do."
There are over 6,000 books available on Amazon that deal with the issue of multigenerational living. Many of these volumes are first-person accounts of families that share living spaces, and some are how-to books regarding sensible ways to bridge the generation gaps. AARP has developed a nine-point checklist specifically designed to help families, especially older family members, live together with as little complication and conflict as possible.
These guidelines are a great place to start if you are considering sharing a home with an older — or even younger — family member.
1. Prepare your home. We all have certain basic needs when it comes to our living spaces. Make sure that bathrooms, kitchens and stairs will not present "physical barrier issues."
2. Prepare your family. The time to ask everyone concerned about their expectations and how they'd like to see the upcoming addition work out is before family members move in together.
3. Space allocation. The living spaces in your home need to be "defined and delineated" ahead of time to avoid territorial misunderstandings later.
4. Let them live their lives. New household members need to maintain the activities and friendships they've always had if possible. "Compulsory" social family schedules need to take this into account.
5. Be consistent. It can help everyone if daily routines (like mealtimes and bedtimes) are relatively predictable.
6. Instigate play dates. Both grandparents and grandchildren benefit when they can do enjoyable activities together.
7. Don't run interference. If you are living with your parents as well as your children, make sure that they don't look to you as the intermediary. It's not your job to settle every squabble.
8. Keep it real. Accept that there will be inevitable irritants when generations are adapting to one another. Teenagers' needs will naturally be different than those of their grandparents, for example. Don't expect everyone to mesh immediately and effortlessly.
9. Make memories together. One of the benefits of multigenerational households is that everyone has opportunities to receive additional love, solace and support. This is also the perfect time for youngsters to learn more about the older adults in their lives and their family history.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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