Multi-Generational Households Are Back

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 11 May 2010

As of 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1% of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation. (from the Pew Social Trends report)

Comebacks are happening all the time – styles, products, actors, movies, musicians, sayings – and in this case, a once-popular housing arrangement is re-emerging. Multi-generational households are back. A recently released report from the Pew Research Center and an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered this current trend reversal, outlining the history of this living arrangement from then to now, the stats on who is where, and the rationale for this comeback (a number of obvious reasons: seniors and their adult children are facing job loss, economic turmoil, home foreclosure, rising long-term care costs, declining health/increasing care needs, loneliness, isolation).

In the case of my own family, my grandfather’s death left my grandmother with a fairly large home that needed a lot of work and required substantial upkeep. She’s in good health for an 80+ year-old woman, but caring for Grandpa (who had Alzheimer’s) had truly taken its toll. Although my parents live only two houses away and my uncle, her oldest son, a few houses away in the other direction, Grandma did not want to be alone in her home, nor did she want to move in with either of her children. After a number of family discussions, it was decided that my sister, her husband, and their two toddlers would move in.

While I know there are several challenges for my sister’s family and for Grandma in this arrangement, I would wager that the pros easily outweigh the cons. My brother-in-law, a carpenter by trade, is making repairs on the home that Grandpa had not been able to complete for many years due to his declining health. My sister, a young mom to two active boys, has an extra pair of hands and eyes, and Grandma is able to stay in her home, where she is comfortable, but does not have to be alone.

We all benefit from this arrangement, really. I love being on the phone with Grandma in the evenings because I get to hear her saying goodnight to my sweet nephews, and I can just imagine the smile on her face when they come down the stairs in their pajamas to plant kisses on her cheeks. “Goodnight, Great-Gramma,” they say, “I love you.” It absolutely warms my heart.

My mom, who is technically the Sandwich generation member in this equation, still cares for Grandma, taking her to doctor’s appointments, CVS, and for lunch dates now and then, but she is able to focus on her husband and five children, the youngest of which still lives at home and is a junior in high school. My uncle down the street stops by often with a newspaper and a hamburger, and he and my aunt invite her to join them for dinner occasionally. The rest of us are thrilled to know that the house is maintained (especially the pool, where we all spent countless summer hours over our growing-up years, and now enjoy hours with the boys as they learn to swim), that it didn’t have to be sold to someone outside of the family, and most importantly, that Grandma is happy.

For members of the Sandwich Generation who are caring for their parents and children in the same household (and balancing a career too), the stress is sometimes overwhelming, depending on the age of the children and the care needs of the parent(s). Barbara McVicker, author of Stuck in the Middle: Shared Stories and Tips for Caregiving Your Elderly Parents, explains, “They’re trying to … take care of everybody [so] that main, primary caregiver finds that they have no time left for themselves.” In these situations, burnout can easily occur.

Family dynamics can change drastically when an older loved one (or a younger family) moves in, and tensions over privacy, space, and balance can strain the residents in this equation. Maintaining good communication and establishing clear boundaries is essential to keeping shalom in the home.

If this is a decision you’ve been pondering recently, the Post-Gazette article offers some great tips. I’ll share just a few of them here, but be sure to check the piece for the full listing (and weigh this decision very, very carefully before diving in):

  • Before having the older parent move in, make sure your house is appropriate. You will need an extra bedroom, and some senior citizens will need to avoid stairs and be close to a bathroom.
  • Move your parent in for a trial period, before committing to anything long-term. Regularly have family meetings, and evaluate the situation.
  • Prioritize your marriage, no matter how hard it is. Get out and have a date night with your spouse.
  • Have the senior pursue a social life, and, perhaps, spend time at a senior center.
  • Don’t neglect your kids, although it can be hard when you’re caring for a parent. Encourage the relationship between the grandparent and the children.

SFL followers – what do you think of multi-generational households? Do you currently live in one, or have previous experiences to share about this arrangement?

Read the Pew Research Center report: http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/752/the-return-of-the-multi-generational-family-household

Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/s_677154.html

-Michelle Seitzer

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. Kaye Swain says,

    Great article Michelle. I’ve been involved in the Sandwich Generation issues of multigenerational living for over 30 years. First, by watching and helping my parents care for their parents, much of the time in their own homes. Later by helping my senior parents AND one of my adult kids who was having a difficult pregnancy. Now my senior mom and I live together while I continue to help granny nanny half my grandkids, while visiting the other half who live far away.

    I love my Sandwich Generation life, but you are so right about the various challenges. I agree with all your points and especially the dating your spouse idea. I am a widow so my husband has not been in the trenches with me this time around. He was, however, wonderfully supportive when I was helping with my grandparents.

    And we made dating each other a top priority throughout our 27 years of marriage -to a point where my grown kids still remember it and strive to do it as well. A healthy marriage is the best gift you can give your entire family and that’s a good place to start. :)

    Thanks again for an excellent resource article. :)


    on 11 May 2010 / 6:09 PM

  2. Linda Snyder says,

    This has been a great stress reliever for me. It is amazing how well this situation has worked for us at this time.


    on 11 May 2010 / 10:42 PM

  3. Steffan Lozinak says,

    “My mom, who is technically the Sandwich generation member in this equation” hehe, this made me smile. Wonderful article :)


    on 12 May 2010 / 5:09 AM

  4. @Kaye, thank you so much for your feedback and for sharing your experiences. Sounds like you’ve definitely got a lot to say/share on this subject! :) I also love what you said about making dating a priority and that a healthy marriage is the greatest gift you can give your family. So true, and so beautifully put! Glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful.

    @Linda(my Mom) – it is amazing how well this worked out. We are so blessed!

    @Steffan – glad to make you chuckle, and glad you liked the piece! Thanks for stopping by.


    on 12 May 2010 / 11:43 AM


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