Permanent multi-generational homes: Would you do it?

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Could I live here happily with my mom, and my kids… forever? (By: hobvias sudoneighm - CC BY 2.0)
Could I live here happily with my mom, and my kids… forever? (By: hobvias sudoneighmCC BY 2.0)
My mother and I are contemplating buying a house together and establishing a multi-generational home. The idea was that it would be a house that she could retire in, that I would care for it and her as she aged, and hopefully find its way to my children. We’re American and, for most of our peers and relatives, this is not a common practice. We’ve reviewed articles on moving back in with parents for the short term, but don’t see much advice for the long term.

Has anyone else on Offbeat Home & Life lived, or perhaps grew up, in a multi-generational home? If so, I would love to hear about your experiences. -Claire

Comments on Permanent multi-generational homes: Would you do it?

  1. I tried this, I really did try! Last spring my man and I sold my Condo and moved into my Dad’s place with the intent of buying a house with a suite that we all could live in. After we started looking we realized that it was not going to work. My Dad couldn’t bring himself to be ok with living in the suited part of the house and with my man and I planning on having a family soon, living in the smaller basement suite while my single Dad got the larger upstairs wasn’t going to work for me either. Both of us were stubbornly sticking to our guns when I realized something had to give. So we decided that our relationship was more important than buying a house (well, that and it freed the man and I up to move to an island in another province).

    So, the only advice I have is make sure you’re both willing to compromise. It’s important to go into it as peers and not “I’m the parent, that’s why” or “I don’t have to listen to you. . I’m all grown up now”.

  2. A friend of mine has a house with an in-law apartment. She lives with her husband and kids in the “main” part of the house, and her mom lives upstairs in the in-law. Her mom has her own kitchen and even her own entrance, but it’s basically just the upstairs of the house. As far as I know they don’t really have any issues. I’m pretty sure they’ve set some type of boundary rules and usually knock before going upstairs, but it’s nice that they’re so close.

  3. My husband, my dad and I just rented a house together. My dad has some health issues and not able to live alone anymore. Dad lives on the main floor and we live downstairs. We share a kitchen which is good. We share our evening meals and shop together. It really helps us all. Our plan is to buy a house in the future but we needed to move in a hurry so renting was our best option.

  4. I could not live in the same home as my family. I could live near to them (and do- both my and my husband’s parents are a four block walk, 1 minute drive) but living WITH them seems like hell. My husband and I lived with my grandparents (an apartment above their garage, totally separate but still together) for years. It was awful. Not because I don’t love my grandparents, but because we really wanted our own space and they didn’t seem to enjoy having us. We ultimately became caretakers for them and their property but were not treated as adults. We had to move out, which made me feel guilty but was necessary. Now we live with my brother, and while it’s not financially feasible (for us or him) for him to move out (and he would really like to!). It’s… tense. Mostly because the house is too small and we keep such totally different hours and lifestyles that it’s hard not to be tripping over eachother.

    My ideal solution would be a big plot of land with smaller houses built on to it for my various siblings and family members. One of my sisters and her husband are actively perusing this idea and I would totally buy into it if they found something workable.

  5. We’re thinking of doing something similar to this when my husband’s parent’s retire. They’re lovely people, and I’d love to have my kids grow up with their grandparents so close by. However, his mother has some hoarder tendencies, so there would have to be some very clear boundaries between “our” space and “their” space. A duplex or separate house close by would be better than a single house, no matter how big it was. I’m really glad this article and comments are here….it’s great to start thinking about how it might be able to work!

  6. My sister and parents have this arrangement quite by accident – my sister moved in when she was expecting, then her fiancé (now husband) and it’s worked for them going on seven years now. Personally, I can’t imagine it, but if you have a stable relationship with your parents, I guess it works.

  7. Wow! I’m amazed at all the responses! Sadly, I haven’t had the time to go through everyone’s right now, but I will throughout the weekend. Thanks again!

  8. My mom grew up in a multi-generational home. After WWII, her parents couldn’t afford a nice house of their own. My great-grandmother signed over hers to them, on the condition that she could always live there. My grandma and grandpa worked, and my great-grandma (her mother) kept the house and took care of the kids. I visited often as a kid, and the three adults seemed to have worked it all out just fine. They didn’t have separate quarters–my great-grandma had her own room (but on a different floor of the house) and that was it. I think people of their time expected less than we do in many ways. Throughout my childhood, it seemed there was always someone living there temporarily (my cousins, many of whom needed some support as they moved into adulthood). I never had the impression that my grandparents felt burdened by this or that there was anything unusual in it. It was just family, you know?

  9. Please, please, please! Go see an estate planning attorney who specializes in real property acquisition/purchases. There may be bad tax or end-of-life-care issues surrounding home ownership for both you and your mother, and it WILL impact future generations who want to live in the home.
    Go into it with your eyes open, and really consider things like Medicaid, long term disability or nursing home planning for your mom. Things like estate taxes and pension distributions could also be affected.
    You will save money and peace of mind in the long run if you make the small investment toward a family estate planning scheme. In my geographical area, planning like this runs between $1000 and $3000.

  10. My husband and I bought a home with my parents. We did buy a home where we could specifically have two completely seperate living spaces, and for the most part it has been great! I personally never thought home ownership was for me, and part of the reason was because I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in the historic or downtown neighborhoods I love. Going in together meant I could. It also means shared maintenance and when I travel someone is always there.
    The Bad: We needed to have clearly laid out boundaries such as no “motherly” comments lol. We also chose the basement suite, but peoples perception is that we mooch off my parents ( everything is actually 50/50). Also, sometimes it is like living in a condo like when I wanted a large dog but they were all “no more animals on the property”… we had to compromise.

    Would I do it over again? Definately!

  11. I grew up with my grandma in the house (we lived in the basement of the house my grandfather had built until it became too small, and then we all moved into the house my parents currently live in when I was about 2). She’d help out by watching my brothers and I during the day when our parents weren’t home, and by paying”rent,” which was really just money for groceries. We eventually had to place her in a home, because her Alzheimer’s had caused a few scary experiences for the family (like when she accidentally filled the house with gas and when she fell down the stairs coming to open the door for my little brother and I), so it was better to put her somewhere that she could be safe and taken care of during the day. But I really liked growing up with my grandma there. I was a really shy kid, so even though I didn’t have a lot of friends, I had my grandma there to talk to me and teach me stuff. I was really close to her, so when she passed away a few years ago, I was really devastated. I’m happy that I have a lot of memories of spending time with her, though, like climbing in bed with her when I had bad dreams, because my little brother wouldn’t let me in my mom’s bed if he was there. 🙂

    I think this could be a really great idea for your family, especially if you have a good relationship with your mom. I think it would be great for your kids to grow up with their grandmother there.

  12. The only thing I can add, is a thought about “taking care of my mother” in old-age. You might want to work out some sort of criteria for what that looks like. Taking care of someone with Alzheimers looks different than taking care of someone who is physically challenged in old-age. I would hate for resentment to build up on either side if it’s found that you can’t adequately care for her needs in the way a live in nurse or assisted facility could. Ya know?

    But I think it sounds like a cool idea, especially with boundaries established. My husband and I lived with his parents for a few months and it worked really well, but it still had moments where it felt like we were intruding in their house and had to live by their rules.

    • I second the thinking about what this would look like 5 or 10 years from now. Is it a good idea for Mom to be on the 1st floor with no stairs? Could you afford a chair lift if her area is upstairs/downstairs? Are there any other accessibility issues that would need to be addressed: bathtub rails, extra-bright lighting, storage labels?

      • Ah, that’s some of the things I’ve contemplated more about. I can think in the far future about medical and financial concerns but when it comes to the emotional investment and boundaries I’m a bit blind!

  13. My mom and I are in the process of looking for a 2-unit property right now. We have agreed that each unit will be fully self-contained so that we have our own space. The benefit for her is that she has someone close by to help her out and I get to buy a bigger house!

  14. This might be a good idea. Something to think about too: if your mother is old enough, she may get a discount on several home-related costs as long as the house is in her name, such as property taxes, utilities, etc.

  15. My mom grew up with her Grandparents living in a different house in the same farm yard. It was great for her and her immediate family but did cause some tension with aunts and uncles who were jealous of the time she and her siblings got to spend with the grandparents versus the time their children got to spent with the grandparents. I’m sure there were probably personality clashes and other underlying reasons for some of the family tension but that is one thing to think about.

  16. From birth until I was about 8 and my brother was about 13, we lived in a duplex with my parents and my mothers parents.
    Since it was a duplex and everyone had their own spaces, there really wasn’t any conflict about personal space or anything like that. My grandparents were already retired and generally had an open door policy where my brother and I could go up there at almost any time. My mom was in college full time and my dad worked full time, so this helped a lot with childcare needs. The conflicts arose in parenting.
    Not that my mom and grandma ever openly disagreed about parenting (that I recall, at least) there was a pattern of ‘going upstairs’ when we couldn’t get what we wanted from mom and dad downstairs. If mom wouldn’t make us something special for dinner because we didn’t like what she was cooking, we knew grandma would. If we wanted to go to the park, but were grounded, grandma would take us. She was a very spoiling grandma. Since I was younger with this was going on, it didn’t really stick with me. My brother was exposed to it much longer and developed a serious entitlement issue which eventually led him to steal both money and property from my grandparents and parents.
    After my grandpa died, we moved to a different house which was just a 5 bedroom house (mom and dad, 4 kids, & grandma, so quite a few people) where personal space was not quite so easy to come by. At this point there were a lot of conflicts between my mom and grandma because my grandma felt that she had lost a lot of her independence. She could no longer do her own grocery shopping or keep foods around that she likes. Having 4 kids between 5 and 21 in the house meant that everyone pretty much just raided the cabinets for everything whenever they wanted and so food would disappear quickly.

    I would say that if everyone has their own space, and there are very clear boundaries that are set, it’s a good idea. It’s also important to recognize that living arrangements, needs, and worries will change throughout the stages of life. I would strongly recommend that you think very far into the future, thoroughly analyze any worries you have, and also remember to be flexible and recognize that the plan may need to change if it’s not working how you had imagined.

    Hope this helps!

    • Thank you for sharing! Space, independence, and boundaries seem to be the biggest concerns for my mother. Which totally makes sense, she’s spent about 20 years of her life being a parent to kids/teens and wants to have more time for herself.

  17. I haven’t done it, and I wouldn’t. My mum is pretty full on, and I find her a bit exhausting to be around. I don’t particularly get on with her partner, so that wouldn’t be good. My partner would definitely not be okay with it either. I prefer to live indepdently, and I imagine that I always will

  18. I know that my mother has set up elaborate low term care insurance and has managed to get it so she could pay me or my brother to care for her, which is pretty difficult to do. She does have a big house in a fun part of town, but I have my own smaller house about 20 minutes away and am planning to start trying to have children this summer.

    Our relationship is fairly solid, but I don’t know if I could handle being her caretaker or living with her. Right now, her health seems to be ok. I don’t know exactly what I would do if it started deteriorating, sometimes I feel like she assumes I will care for her even though we haven’t talked about it in depth. Having seen other relatives go through severe dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I just don’t know if I would have the energy to care for her and my hypothetical children.

    As others have commented, I would consider all possibilities and look at stuff really long term. I think it would be worthwhile to talk to an insurance person about long term care insurance, for instance, Medicare does not cover most nursing home situations and it is expensive without insurance.

    I commend you and everyone else who is able to make this work, I just think that my mother and I would have a hard time with it. Our relationship is pretty solid, but complicated. Best of luck, and I think this type of living will become more common in the future.

  19. my mom has recently mentioned in orange county, southern california developers are starting to build more houses for multigenerational use- they have separate entrances and kitchens/living rooms– but they keep the family close together while allowing people their needed space for privacy and entertaining

  20. Ooooo this is such an interesting question for me!

    My husband and I are about to break ground on our ‘house’. We’re building an addition onto his mother’s house for a sort-of reverse-in-law-apartment. We are building our own living space, kitchen, dining area, bedroom, bathroom, and pantry. Once it is finished, we will be living with my mother-in-law and her partner. Eventually, our children will live there too.

    I’m glad we’ll have two kitchens and two living spaces, though I’m sure it’s not necessary for everyone.

  21. I grew up in a multi-generational home. My grandparents bought a long, single story house on a large lot. It had six bedrooms (two of which we combined into one larger room), two living rooms, two bathrooms, and a single laundry room, kitchen, and garage. It looked something like this:

    [ Garage ][ BR ][ Living ][ Kitchen ][ LA ][ BR ][ Lrg. Bed ]
    [ Bed ][ Bed ][ Living ][ Kitchen ][ Living 2 ][ Bed ][ Bed ]

    My grandparents and uncle slept down by the garage while my mom, sister, and I had the other ‘wing.’ There was some swapping over the years and at one time we had nine people under the same roof, plus pets, but this was the general idea. As far as privacy and space goes, it worked out pretty well because all the common areas were in the middle of the house. I think growing up in this environment benefited my sister and me for a variety of reasons.

    1) My grandparents raised their kids on a farm in Ohio, just like they were raised, so they brought the ideas of pooling family or community resources and providing for those in need with them down to Texas as just a natural part of life. To this day, I feel very blessed to have the space to provide for any of my family or friends if they need it. We may only have a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city, but it’s a safe place with food, tea, a comfy couch, and a listening ear day or night. Having that “no brainer” attitude about providing a roof, ride, shower, or meal to someone who needs it, no matter how little we have, has changed and saved lives.

    2) My mom was a nurse, which gave her the know-how to care for aging parents, but also meant she worked a lot of long, odd, physically demanding hours as well as every holiday. She had the freedom to work the hours she needed to financially provide for us without having to worry about providing all of our daily care. No matter what we needed or what time of day it was, someone was always home to care for us.

    3) I can’t pick out an ’80-’90s boy band member to save my life, but I have an appreciation for art, movies, and music well beyond my years. I grew up being exposed to the culture of everyone around me on a daily basis. My grandparents brought a wealth of knowledge from growing up post-depression and working during war times. My uncle is a graphic artist and world musician with a love of animation and obscure instruments. My mom only turned up the radio for Beethoven or Elvis, loved black and white film, and low-budget BBC. The cultural traditions of my grandparent’s grandparents were more than stories told to me a few times a year. Now I feel like I’m helping to preserve that oral tradition, that I have a deeper understanding of the history that’s being lost.

    Today, the remaining members of my blood family have scattered, but my family-of-intention is starting to raise their own children in a village-like environment. I see a marked difference in the cognitive development and social skills of these children (raised with a wider definition of family and many hands helping every day) to those of my friends who are raising children on their own. This may have been the same difference that my teachers saw in me and my sister that always had them remarking about us being especially kind and gifted. I think that modeling healthy adult relationships (negotiation, non-romantic affection, shared guardianship and stewardship, etc) are vital for any child. It’s just that much easier to accomplish in a shared household.

  22. When my Mom was a kid, her paternal grandparents lived with them. It did not work well as my grandmother did not get along with her in-laws. My mom’s family had the kitchen and the upstairs, and her grandparents had the sitting room, and another room, which had a stove in it that they used for cooking.

    As a result of this experience, my Mom is adamant that she does not want to live with any of her children. Her opinion was further cemented when my grandmother lived with my uncle and his wife, and Grandma and my aunt did not get along.

    Everybody’s family is different of course. In the community my dad grew up in, the “Doddy House” is a common feature. It’s a little house next to the main house where the grandparents live. http://www.thirdway.com/menno/glossary.asp?ID=29

    For most people something like an in law suite would probably be more practical, though.

  23. My husband and I just made the move to a permanent multi-generational situation at the beginning of the month –we’re sharing the house with my Mother-In-Law. Although we are new to the situation we definitely thought about it for a long time. Ultimately we decided to go for it because it fit our values as a couple. My husband is a sailor and we found ourselves spending his entire vacation with our family instead of spending it in our own home. In addition it was important for us to support his mom and take care of the property that will one day be willed to him. We finally decided to go for it, despite the worried/ quizzical reactions from other people because it consistently rose to the top as the best way to support all of our needs/ wants. This way, we can support my MIL without splitting our money to two different households, Grandma will be there when we decide to have kids and currently it gives us a sense of permanence that we otherwise wouldn’t have with my husband’s job.

    So far everything is going great –my little dog now has an older generation dog to play with and a plethora of laps/beds to choose from, my mother-in law is eating healthier and smiling more often and my husband and I finally (after years of transitional housing) have a home that we can grow roots in. I couldn’t be happier. I hope that you and your new multi-generational household find joy in your arrangement. 🙂

  24. When I was 3, my parents bought my grandma’s house from her. It was a fairly large house and she was living alone and was not able to keep it in good repair. My dad is a carpenter. He converted the existing garage into a granny flat. This gave my grandma her privacy. She had her own kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. It was small, but that was good for her because she couldn’t walk well.

    She also could not drive, so having my mom right there to take her to appointments was very helpful. As we got older, my brother and I helped a lot with chores for my grandma. There were times when we all got irritated with each other, like any family. My grandma was a hoarder, and we had a lot of fights about getting rid of old newspapers and things. Overall though, I loved having my grandma there all the time. She passed away two years ago, and I miss her very much.

  25. This is something that we want to do with my husband’s grandma, but with the extended family dynamics/politics, it hasn’t happened yet. She’d love to live with us and has successfully done so in the past, but the current situation is working best for everyone. Our eldest daughter has also expressed an interest in living and working with us when she’s an adult, but we’ll see how she feels when she gets there. (We want to have a farm by then, and she’s looking forward to it even though its hard work)

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