The Best (and Worst) Aspects of Multigenerational Living
For decades now, the number of multigenerational households—where two or more adult generations are living in the same home—has been slowly rising. In the past 50 years, the number of these households has quadrupled, and today, 18% of Americans live in such arrangements, according to Pew Research Center.
The two primary reasons for more adult generations living together? You guessed it: financial issues and caregiving needs.
It’s a living situation that has plenty of benefits, but also some tangible downsides that require flexibility and some real adjustments.
Here are some of the pros and cons to consider before moving in with your in-laws, parents, grandparents, or adult children.
Con: Pleasing picky palates
Most of us have friends and family members whose dietary preferences need to be catered to during holiday gatherings and occasional get-togethers. But imagine juggling that every day.
Shawn Hill, founder and pitmaster at thegrillingdad.com, says cooking for his large multigenerational family became increasingly difficult and came to a head during a family cookout. Hill lives with his wife, in-laws, four sons, and three daughters.
“As I was grilling up a storm, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by all of the tastes I had to accommodate,” he says. “From my young daughter’s recently developed aversion to spicy food, to my teenage son’s newfound vegetarianism, and my mother-in-law’s gluten intolerance.”
Hill says the pressure to deliver a satisfying meal for everyone was taxing. But he was able to turn a tough situation into a new opportunity.
“It pushed me to innovate and experiment with various grilling techniques and ingredients. Ultimately, the experience enriched my culinary repertoire, even if it was stressful at the time,” Hill says.
Pro: Intergenerational skills exchange
When Grandma moves in, it can become almost too easy to rely on her for “free labor.” But there can be benefits on both sides.
James Berger, the founder of Refresh Public Relations, recalls the initial ups and downs of having his mother move in with him, his wife, and their children.
“We quickly learned that while we could rely on her to referee arguments and be the designated driver to appointments, we didn’t want her to feel taken advantage of,” he says.
After an initial rebalancing, they all quickly found joy in their new closeness—and a newfound appreciation for all of the things they could learn from one another.
“My mother got to relive her glory days watching my kids’ soccer games and dance recitals, and she even learned a few new steps herself,” Berger says. “Plus, she found new people to binge-watch ‘The Golden Girls’ with her, and she taught my kids how to knit scarves and properly fold a fitted sheet.”
Con: Tension over who’s the boss
When grown adults live under one roof, tensions over who’s in charge of what are inevitable—especially when kids are involved.
“We’ve witnessed a lot of disagreements about how to handle discipline or divide up chores,” says Dave Conway, founder of Roowad, a platform dedicated to entrepreneurs.
Mo Mulla, founder of the blog Parental Questions, has witnessed more than his share of front-line intergenerational combat.
“I’ve seen a lot of tension over control issues, but also lifestyle preferences and different parenting styles,” Mulla says. “To find success right off the bat, it’s essential to clearly set expectations and boundaries, and recognize that both sides will need to compromise if mutual respect and harmony is the goal.”
Pro: The cementing of cultural ties and traditions
For many Gen X and millennial Americans whose parents were not born in the U.S., multigenerational living offers them an opportunity to connect with the culture their parents or grandparents grew up with.
“One unexpected benefit of living with my in-laws has been the rich cultural exchange,” says Jenna Shaughnessy, a Massachusetts-based e-design entrepreneur and founder of jennakateathome.com. “My children have learned family recipes, traditions, and stories that otherwise could have been lost. This has fostered a deep sense of belonging and a strong family bond.”
Con: The challenge of finding quality time
As much as Shaughnessy appreciates the cultural foundation and intergenerational connection living with her in-laws has created, she admits that it hasn’t always been “smooth sailing”—especially when it comes to ensuring she and her husband have one-on-one time.
“We struggled to carve out moments of solitude for just us,” she says. “But we’ve found that by implementing a quiet hour every evening, where everyone retreats to their respective spaces, we can recharge and maintain a healthy balance.”
Pro: Insight into a different era
Just as many of us have lost touch with our ethnic or cultural heritage, the recent past often seems like a mystery.
“I grew up with my grandmother living at home with us, and some of my fondest childhood memories center around her because she was at home with us, while our parents worked,” says Christopher Patrick, a retired New York–based business executive. “She taught us to play poker, which made our house the coolest one on the South Side of Chicago. All the kids wanted to come over and learn. But more importantly, she gave us insight into the hardscrabble life she had on Goose Island as one of 10 kids and an immigrant.
“I’m eternally grateful for her stories and insights,” says Patrick.