Do you live with your parents or do your parents live with you?
Well, neither. We live in a multi-generational home (MGH). In fact our particular living situation is one that is that more and more families are considering today as old-folks are living longer, young families are overwhelmed and money is tight all around.
A multi-generational home is almost what it sounds like. It’s a family living situation where more than two generations of a family line are present and participating in daily home life. This is not the same as a family member going through a rough patch and moving in with you until they get back on their feet (although this is how we got started). This is a permanent and planned living situation where all members are contributing and doing their part according to their strengths and everyone working together for the benefit of all.
I’m not going to tell people what they should do, I can only say that there are things to consider before doing a multi-generational home. I’m going to try to list them out for you here:
Just a quick note: Obviously if you have a lot of family drama, lazy/dysfunctional family members, or if someone in your family has serious issues like with addictions or criminal behavior you know this isn’t a good idea, right? OK, good, moving on.
What are your priorities?
In our multi-generational home our priorities are 1.God, 2.Marriage, 3.Kids, 4.The rest of the family. That’s right, after God, Marriage is first. And this shouldn’t just be understood between a man and a wife. Make sure your parents feel that your marriage should come before them too. Trust me, there is a lot of dis-functionality out there and if you have a parent that has ever sought to subvert your marriage in any way you need to run the other direction.
Thou shall honor thy mother and thy father.
This is a good one. I learned a while ago that even as an adult it’s important to honor my parents by showing respect and even obeying them. Not only is it part of God’s design and his command, but it’s good for my relationship with them and it’s a good example to my own children. Where you might get into trouble is back with number one, your marriage priority. That’s why it’s important to have an understanding with your folks that your marriage comes first and your priority before them is your spouse. The last place you want to be is torn between obeying your father and your husband. And you never want to be a man that makes your wife feel like you put your mother before her. Thankfully, my folks would never put me in a position like this. Would yours?
Do you have in-law drama?
This is important. In our MGH my husband is the one who lives in a home with his in-laws. We took careful consideration to make sure he felt good about this decision. They have a solid relationship built on respect for each other and this is key. My dad made it clear that he never wanted to step on my husbands toes and he wanted to consider what he wanted when it came to big decisions and man-of-the-house stuff. It is especially important for us because in our multi-generational home my husband is the only one who works outside the home and he can easily feel like an outsider.
Do you want to be a go-between?
Before moving to a multi-generational home make sure all the adults in your family are capable of communicating and working out their problems together. What you don’t want is one person in the middle constantly having to go between and mediate peoples feelings when something comes up. (And it will)
What’s your parenting style?
Part of the appeal of a multi-generational home is that you get the benefit of having your kid’s grandparents with you all the time and they can help you raise them, babysit and spend lots of quality time together. We believe that a grandparents true role in the family is to help raise their grand-kids and do what’s best for them, not simply to spoil kids and send them home, (although a little of that is a good thing too). So what’s important for everyone to understand is the hierarchy of parenting in the house, or as we say, ‘who’s the boss?‘ Who’s guide do we follow for rules and discipline. Who gets to make rules? What if you don’t agree with them?
What is everyone’s roll?
It’s going to be different in each household, the point is that everyone should have one. In our MGH my husband is the money-bringer/project-pusher, my dad is the home-builder/maintenance guy/ problem fixer, my mother is the matriarch (the center guiding force in our family)/grandchild-raiser, I am the mom/homeschool teacher/shopper, and my kids are the kids. Their job is to learn to grow into adults and to take on chores and tasks according to their abilities. We have family work days for big projects and couple work days for smaller projects. We all have individual responsibilities. Mine is to meal plan and shop for food. My mom’s is to cook for us all most nights. The older kids have kitchen clean up duty in both kitchens (we have two indoor kitchens). We didn’t plan all this, it just kind of worked itself out organically according to everyone’s strengths and preferences. It’s simpler than is sounds but the key is to have a family of caring and flexible people who put each others feelings before their own.
Who’s got the money?
In our multi-generational home my folks benefited by being able to retire and spend time with their grandchildren by sharing their home with us and we benefited by having a home provided for us mortgage free. We pay for all the bills including my folks medical insurance and prescriptions as well as fund many projects for home improvement. We are investing in a home that we live in and will one day be in our name. Now this sounds a little risky to some, and for some people it is. So you need to be especially clear with all adults involved about the financial responsibilities, and expectations of property ownership. Also, you need to consider any siblings and their expectations of inheritance. Do they get a portion of the property? What are the logistics? This isn’t something you want to have to figure out after it’s too late. Which brings me to…
What about everyone else?
It’s important to consider other people in your family who may not be invited to live with you. There may be family members who might not make good multi-generational home members but will also feel left out. If you feel like this may be the case it’s a good idea to have an honest conversation with everyone about who you are living with and why. It might not make everyone happy with you but it’s better that everyone knows what to expect going in. This is honestly the only part of our family that has drama and I wish we would have handled it differently from the start. Which brings me to my next point…
Who’s coming to dinner?
Do you like to have guests over? How does this affect everyone? It makes a difference depending on your house situation and if you have a separate space from your parents like we do. But still there are questions like: If you have people over, are we expected to eat dinner with you or can we eat separately? My parents aren’t very social so this is an easy one for us. But how do you explain it to other people? “My folks didn’t feel like talking to anyone today so they are hiding” It can get weird so don’t let it. Just have a policy in place and explain it to the people closest in your life. They will understand.
How close is too close?
My mom always brings up the point that when my husband comes home she often likes to make herself scarce. It’s not because she doesn’t like him (she adores him) but she recognizes that we may need “little-family” space, that is, time with just my husband and kids. This is something I didn’t think of we moved in together but in her wisdom, my mom did and I’m glad she does this for us. It is good for us to occasionally take time just for our little family without the grandparents, and it’s good for them too! She also encouraged us to buy our travel trailer and take our camping vacations without them. This is also, again, healthy for us all. Also my mom has set certain boundaries of her own regarding how much time the kids spend on her side of the house, how much noise they can make and when they are allowed to eat in her kitchen. This helps her draw the line between parent-Grandma and fun-Grandma and not be overrun with kids all the time.
What kind of house do you need?
The answer is different for everyone. But you need to consider things like, privacy, space, sex life, bathrooms, freezer space, kids toys, T.V. time, meals, the list goes on. In our case, my folks gave us their old house with three beds and one bath and then added on to the side giving us an extra bedroom and bathroom as well as an entire one bedroom apartment for them. It included their own kitchen, laundry, living room and an entrance from the back yard. Since we built it new, I insisted on making their apartment wheelchair accessible for the future with large doors and shower and even their main entrance has no steps. We have a passageway through my laundry room that has a locking door. We use our garage for extra refrigerators & freezers and as extra storage space. On our property we have a workshop and outbuildings that provide even more space for our particular lifestyle of building and making things. Which reminds me…
What’s your lifestyle?
We think of ourselves as homesteaders. We like to make or grow many of the things we want and we like to do projects together like drying food and making our own grape juice, figuring out the best way to grow beans, that kind of thing. I know this isn’t everyone’s style, but the point is, what is yours? Is it compatible with all your family members? Do you all have a shared vision for the future and how you want to spend your quality time together? It might not seem to matter unless you feel like you can’t plant flowers in the garden because someone else wants to fill them with potatoes, or if one person wants a video game room and the other wants a screen free craft zone. I’m just saying: What’s your lifestyle, and is there room for everyone?
Why are you doing this?
As a result of answering these questions, my family chose the MGH path because we are very close. Most of all, we enjoy being together and we saw while we lived together during a hardship that it was possible and we would all benefit everyone in both the short and long term. Also, as I mentioned at the top, a multi-generational home is when all people are present and participating. One quick note, a good reason for doing a multi-generational home is when you have one family member that has a disability or special need and it’s better to pull together as a family to care for them. This is an especially good reason to have a multi-generational home and I would encourage you to consider it closely.
Lately we’ve noticed more and more families moving toward joint living conditions. What do you think about our multi-generational home, tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.
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