Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Multigenerational Living: Should Grandpa Move In?

As we celebrate another Grandparents’ Day, I find myself musing about a discussion that many families find themselves in the middle of these days. A couple just the other day came in to talk with us about getting ready to move her mother in with them. They talked about how many months they’ve been discussing this as a family, and with the mom. It’s a decision that comes easy for a few; more difficult for many. While the days when generations of families shared homes as a regular course of events seems to have dwindled in the past few decades, there is the suggestion of a national trend afoot for families to stay connected. John Graham and his sister, Sharon Niederhaus (pictured, right), have written a book, Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living.

The siblings found in their research that with rising life expectancies and diminishing finances, families are looking for alternatives to costly care options. There is also a resurgence of craving connectedness, after a generation or two of dispersing as the norm. The family I chatted with the other day had already tried a living community for her mother, but she did not adjust well. They decided that having her mother at home with them would be good not only for her and them in the peace of mind category, but for the teenage kids, who had lost some touch with Grandma, finding it difficult to make the time to visit her at the assisted living community. So, after much discussion they all decided it would be worth a try. She is moving in at the end of the month, giving them time to make a few transformations in their home. (See our blog, Independence Day, for ideas on home modification.)

The U.S. Census Bureau says that there are roughly four million multigenerational American households, an increase of almost 40% since 1990. Graham and Niederhaus offer some ideas for how to assess whether or not to have dad move in, or mom, or Aunt Mary, and how to manage the process well to ensure there will be few surprises (since with humans there will always be surprises).

For example, try a vacation together to see if you all drive each other nuts or not. If the time together is pleasant and satisfying for everyone, maybe there is a chance co-habitation will work. One family we chatted with a few months ago would have mom over every other weekend to stay for two nights. This way, they all had some experience of being together for a few days in a row and over a period of time. It also gave the couple time to figure out what worked and did not work in their house in terms of accessibility, safety and comfort. Everyone was more comfortable when the time came to make the move. The latest update is that things are going quite well for everyone.

Talk candidly ahead of time about legal and financial issues and put everything in writing. There are plenty of legal and financial specialists, including those with a special designation, CSA (for Certified Senior Advisor), who are trained to help families assess financial issues clearly and outline options.

Creating ground rules is always a good thing regardless of life stage and living arrangements. There will be the need for boundaries for all parties. Specify as clearly as possible beforehand just what those boundaries are and how to respect them. We have all had the experience of stepping into it (“Oh, %&#$!”) and having to fix things later. Graham and Niederhaus suggest, for example, that laying out acceptable guidelines when it comes to the kids, especially if they are still small, is essential. While it was okay when the kids went to Grandma’s house to have treats or go to bed late if they were staying over, a steady diet of this behavior just won’t cut it when they are all living together. Grandma has to support the rules of the household she’ll be in. Another big mistake the authors chronicle is expecting grandparents to be build-in babysitters now that they are in the home, or vice versa, expecting the adult children to be on-call taxi drivers. These are just a sampling of the many situations to anticipate ahead of time BEFORE moving someone in with you.

And communicate, communicate, communicate. What is it about this activity that we constantly need reminding about? Speaking clearly about needs and listening to all parties helps anticipate issues, solve problems when they arise, and stay positive about the possibilities of multigenerational living.

So, on this Grandparents’ Day, be sure to celebrate those in your life who have gone before you. And, if you are considering a new plan for living, discuss some of these things over dinner on Sunday.

And, if you are still looking for that perfect gift, consider shopping at Capabilities. We have a number of unique gift ideas, not to mention practical items to help them “be unlimited.”

We would love to hear your story if you have recently made the decision to move a parent or relative to your home. Or let us know if you have already considered multigenerational living and made a different decision. Please leave your comments here.

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