In their 2007 book, “Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living,” Sharon Graham Niederhaus and John L. Graham argue that “with the advent of medical technology and extended life expectancy, and with both parents working, the single-family home for nuclear families is no longer meeting the needs of our changing population.”
Pluses and pitfalls
Whatever is behind it and however long it lasts, the trend toward multigenerational households presents both pluses and pitfalls. As even advocates Niederhaus and Graham point out: “We do recognize that living with kids, parents and grandparents all in one house isn’t exactly ‘Mary Poppins.’ ”
The pluses are perhaps obvious: financial support for all parties concerned; free (and loving) child care for the young parents; free help with the more difficult chores and perhaps even personal care for the older parents; and the less tangible benefits of extended family life and closeness.
“For us, it’s just seemed like it’s worked out,” says Ella Miles, 85, who lives with her daughter, her granddaughter and grandson-in-law, and her three great-grandchildren in a five-bedroom house in Cooksville.
For Miles, multigenerational living is nothing new. Her daughter has always lived with her, and her granddaughter’s family has been with her for 10 years.
Miles charges no rent, but everyone shares household expenses and chores, including the great-grandchildren. Miles says the arrangement benefits everyone. When she needs to move or lift something heavy, for example, Miles has plenty of help available. And, when her granddaughter and her husband are working and need someone to watch the children, Miles or her daughter is there -- and loving it.
“The children keep you young, and they keep you hopping,” Miles says. Recently, the three great-grandchildren went away for a week with their parents. “They left on Saturday,” she recalls. “On Sunday, I was happy, but on Monday I was unhappy. There was no noise in the house!”
As for the potential pitfalls of multigenerational living, they are legion: a loss of privacy, money problems, conflicts over chores or even how to do them, a recurrence of negative patterns and interactions between a parent and child, and conflicting child-rearing philosophies, to name just a few.
Even Miles, well accustomed to and generally well pleased with her living arrangements, admits to occasional problems.
“The adults sometimes get on each other’s nerves -- do things you wouldn’t do,” she says. “But that’s normal. … We all pretty much get along. And if there’s a conflict, we try to settle it right away.”
The Beareses, who embarked on their multigenerational journey this summer after pooling resources to buy the Sykesville house, say they are aware of the possible drawbacks. But they talked about them beforehand, as couples and as a foursome, and decided the advantages far outweighed the pitfalls.
“You have to acknowledge everybody’s misgivings,” says Abby, adding that privacy was her chief concern. “You have to be willing to compromise.”
David and Abby, for example, say they know they couldn’t have afforded so much land (1.5 acres) so close to their jobs and so safe for their children (on a dead-end street) without help from their parents.
“They had a lump of cash (from the sale of their house). We had the cash flow,” David says.
Susan and Paul, meanwhile, had just seen their only other child move out of state and were facing the prospect of approaching old age on their own, in a house far too big for them. Instead, they chose to live in an in-law suite built this summer in their new house, a suite with its own kitchen and living area, and, on the second floor, their own bedroom and bathroom. Moreover, the suite was designed with such senior-friendly amenities as raised electrical outlets, doorways wide enough for wheelchairs and a stairway big enough to accommodate a lift.
And, of course, Susan and Paul also got their son, his wife and their three grandchildren in the deal. “To be around these children, it’s just a joy,” Susan says. Not to mention, a help at times: Paul, who took up gardening after he retired from a career in banking, says the grandchildren helped plant the garden at the new home.
“We were living a comfortable life,” Paul concedes. “We could’ve stayed where we were, lived out our lives there. But this kind of (arrangement) is life-giving.” Holding his youngest grandchild, 1-year-old Quinn, he adds: “It’s an adventure.”