The Make-up of Households is Changing
Multigenerational living is on the rise in the United States. In my whole adult life, I never considered living with my parents or having adult children living with me as options. Americans value their independence and having one’s own home has always been the hallmark of success.
Nowadays, with the outrageous costs of assisted-living housing for seniors, expensive child-care costs for working families and oppressive student loan debt of young adults, many American families are finding themselves living under one roof with adults belonging to two or three generations.
This is Not Something That is New
Believe it or not, multigenerational living has always been alive and well in many other cultures and was commonplace in the United States before World War II. The birth of suburbs and growing middle-class made home ownership an accessible goal of everyone.
As young children, most of us are pampered and protected by our parents and families. They supply all the attention we need. But in American society, we believe in leaving “the nest.” We are all pressured to grow up and have a place of our own.
Housing of the Last Resort
Many of us find ourselves living in a city or state without any relatives or long-time friends nearby. If we are not part of a strong nuclear family, we can easily wind up alone. Even, if we do live in the same town as family, in American culture, it is looked down to have a grown relative living with family so we’d rather suffer with financial strain and loneliness rather than move in with someone. We make multigenerational living the housing of last resort and often hope it is temporary.
A New Way of Looking at Living Arrangements
I think we need to start looking at the way we live differently. Things have been going downhill in America for the middle class for the past few decades. The easy living of the fifties, sixties and seventies may not be coming back. First, we thought we all needed to get married and buy a house. Then we began thinking that two-income households with two-cars were necessary. Then, we started thinking everyone should have a car (including the teenagers) and mom had to have the latest one in fashion (station wagons, minivans and now SUVs.) What was once seen as a luxury car (Mercedes, BMWs, Land Rovers, etc.) became commonplace. Now, we have to also have the latest electronics, fashions and everything else to keep up with everyone else.
Then, we didn’t just buy a house, we bought “starter” homes that were upgraded two or three times. By the time the kids we ready to leave home, we were not close to paying off the mortgage of way more house than we needed. When the houses do get paid off, seniors on fixed incomes let the banks take back their homes with a reverse mortgage.
Consumerism Lifestyle May Not Be What is Best for Us
We let ourselves be turned into mere consumers instead of deciding for ourselves of how we want to live and what we should value. We live to buy. If we would think of our homes as a multigenerational asset to be passed down, we could stop all of this living in debt and struggling just to live to buy things. If we would find a way to stop buying things as our main pursuit in life, we could possibly all have better quality of lives. Think of how much freedom that sharing household expenses and duties among multiple adults would allow.
There are many advantages to multi-generational living but in the American mind-set, we think of it as a “burden.” The financial pressure is relieved off of the members of the household (only one mortgage, and if the home has been in the family a long time, maybe not even that.) Caretakers are more easily available for the very young and the sick in the household. Sharing household duties and having a built-in support system are other advantages to multigenerational living.
But the key to making multigenerational households work, is that the adults have to be willing to compromise and respect each other’s rights. Parents can’t treat their grown children like they are 10-year-olds, and in turn, the grown children have to respect the privacy and needs of the senior parents. These living arrangements work all over the world, but the American attitude would have to change to make it work here.
Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
There are two big words that come to my mind before anything if multigenerational living can work in a family. They are dysfunctional and functional.
Two Kinds of Families
In a dysfunctional family, the main problem is within the family. There are still outside problems (health, financial, social, etc.) that we all have to face, but the way the family functions, or doesn’t function, makes these problems worse. Often there is some sort of addiction or mental illness in these families. Along with addiction and mental illness, you will sometimes have perfectionism, narcissism, abuse, unpredictability (You’ve heard of people that you feel like you are walking on eggshells around them. The least little thing will set them off, and life will be hell for a while.), fear, conditional love, lack of boundaries, lack of intimacy and poor communication. In other words, your own family life is your living nightmare.
The family is not a source of strength as it is in a functional family, where the members pool their resources together to face the world. A functional family knows how to pick the battles. The members are willing to live and let live. They respect each other’s needs. They are loving and are willing to do what it takes to make things work. They know how to communicate. The love for one another is deeply imbedded in their roots.
Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Multigenerational Living Only Works in Functional Families
Multigenerational living only works in functional families. If all of the family members are willing and able to work together to combat the mental illness or addiction, then, maybe the family can be turned around. But, if the dysfunctional members are in control of the family, it is best if members do go off on their own and save themselves.
In this generation of high living expenses, and with the prices going up each and every day, multigenerational living would be a good thing. We could focus more on the art of living rather than just trying to survive. It would give us freedom from financial burdens, loneliness, and caretaking.
Come on America let’s catch up with the rest of the world and invite others into our household. Multi-generational living might take some adjusting in our attitudes and beliefs, as well as our physical spaces (everyone should have their own private space, so the houses may need to be added onto), but it is something we should at least consider.