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. My husband and I have lived with his family in a semi-detached Victorian house on and off for the last 16 months. We’ve spent the last 6 months in our own place, but due to the incredible cost of living in London and his return to school in September, we’re moving back in again next month. Here’s how we stay sane living with his parents, teenage brother, and assortment of family pets:

    1) Establish our own space. We will have two rooms upstairs that are ours and ours alone. There will be no cats, no dog, no brother, and no parents in those rooms unless expressly invited. We will be repainting the rooms and getting our own furniture in there to make the space very much our space and designed to use as we need it (bedroom and office space).

    2) Establish house rules ahead of time. There is only one bathroom and only one kitchen. We’re going to need to figure out some logistics ahead of time to make sure everything runs smoothly. We will have a master schedule so everyone knows who is in and who is out at various times and to keep us all from annoying the crap out of each other by getting in the way. Obviously showering is an issue. A shower/bath schedule will keep us from killing one another. You miss your slot, your problem. I will also likely take to showering at the gym a lot ;).

    3) Take frequent time outs from each other’s presence. We’re going to stick a TV with our own cable connection upstairs so that we can have space in the evenings when we need it. It’s lovely to spend time with his family, but sometimes we just want to chill in our own room with our own shows on. Paying a little extra to get a cable box in a second room is totally worth it for that peace of mind. Five grown humans fighting over a remote is no fun.

    4) Make a point of having a conflict resolution plan. When you’re integrating into someone’s family unit, you walk right into a mountain of pre-existing drama and baggage. That includes a pattern for dealing with conflict that isn’t always the best ever. We’re changing the pattern by going in with a new policy: No shouting, no name-calling, no swearing. If any of these things happens, we leave the room. Conflict happens, but there’s no need for it to get messy. Breaking years of bad habits takes time, but talking about those habits and changing them up front makes it a lot easier to fix them. We also have a contract in place to help with that.

    5) Establish up front who pays for what and how much. We won’t be paying rent per se, but we will be contributing to costs like food, cable, heat, and electricity. Also to improvements on our rooms (new windows, new flooring, etc) to make them more habitable. We’ve hammered it out on paper so that there’s no confusion or back-pedalling later on. This makes life a lot easier when the inevitable “but you’re in school and not working so I need you to do x for me” argument arises. Which leads me to my last one…

    6) Establish who does what and when ahead of time. Who takes the teenager to school in the morning? Who handles sending out the ironing and dry cleaning? Who takes out the recycling and garbage? Who does the grocery run? These are important things to settle, and if one of you is in school or working from home, you need to make sure you’re not getting saddled with all the stuff other people don’t want to do simply because you’re home more. It may sound fair at first, but trust me, it eats into your time like you wouldn’t believe. Get it hashed out on paper ahead of time and refer back to it if necessary.

    Living with my in-laws isn’t the easiest thing ever, but it’s a lot easier when we’re all on the same page and communicating well. Also when we’re all busy. Communicate often, early, and in depth and you should avoid most serious problems. Someone will always leave hair in the drain and someone will always forget to move their laundry in a timely fashion, but that’s life. As long as you can let go of the little stuff and talk about the big stuff, it works out.

  2. I grew up in what’s now called a multi-generational household. To us, it just seemed normal that family all lived together. I had, when I was very young, great-great grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and my sister and I all living on the same property. I had no idea what a babysitter was, but I learned stories about my ancestors, how to care for the garden, what I could forage for in the woods, and how to buck hay bales. We lived, and died, together as a family. If you can leave the drama behind, and always remember that family comes first, by all means, live together. You will have less privacy in the bathroom, but more far more love.

  3. Granted it probably won’t be indefinitely, but my boyfriend and I have been living with his parents for a few months now. I agree with what others have said about designating sections of the house for each group, or generally just making sure to allocate enough personal space for everyone. We share the kitchen and living rooms, and then his parents are in one end on the first floor plus an office in the basement and we have a two-room suite on the second floor by the guest room which we sometimes spill into when it’s unoccupied (the guest bathroom is where I shower and keep all my hair and make-up stuff). It’s not particularly child proof, and besides our career paths require us to relocate eventually anyway, so it certainly won’t be a long-term situation, but for as long as it lasts its very comfortable for everyone!

  4. Living with your mom? Awesome. Living with your mom and your husband and your child? Not so awesome. That’s the situation I’m in now. My husband and I have enough money to live on our own but we’re just too lazy to get the process started. Most of the time it’s not an issue because my mother is an amazing, kind, wonderful woman. When it does become an issue, however, is when my husband and I are having an argument or when we’re disciplining our son. My mother doesn’t intervene in these situations but I can tell that they make her uncomfortable and that makes me feel really bad.

    I think you should really think about those situations and figure out if you’re ok with having a shouting match with your husband in front of your sweet old mother. How about yelling at your 16 year old son when he comes home past curfew? Are you ok with putting your mother in the middle of those situations?

    Also, you say that the house would “hopefully” make it to your children. If you’re buying a house with your mother you better make damn SURE that your children will get it once you and your mother are gone.

    • I say hopefully because I’m familiar with some people, of another culture, who bought large homes and wanted to live in it with their children yet the kids didn’t want it! So as much as I might trumpet the virtues of a family estate there’s no point in forcing an adult child of mine to live THEIR life by MY choices.

      • Obviously they don’t have to live in the house if they don’t want to, I was just saying that if you paid for the house it should go to them once you’re gone and they can do what they please with it. Live in it, sell it, rent it out, whatever.

  5. I think seven years could count as “permanent” for the purposes of the question. My folks bought a house with finished basement that had several very large rooms and was wired and piped so that it could be easily converted to an “in-law suite”. We were teenagers at the time, but my folks had seen their friends children all move in and out several times before getting really established so they figured it was good investment. It definitely was!

    At one point all four of us kids and my daughter and my sister’s husband were living here at the same time. My daughter and I have lived her continuously since before she was born, so she’s grown up with some combination of her extended family living in the same house at all times. It has been awesome to raise a kid this way: at our weekly family sit-down meals when she was little she crawled into one lap after another until she fell asleep in one (and picked the best bits off of everyone’s plate, which we all had sort of mixed feelings about).

    She’s grown up with a good understanding of privacy (there was a firm “knock-first” rule in place) and a sense of a belonging and family community. When she was really little I always had someone to watch her while I jumped in the shower.

    HOWEVER I don’t think this works unless you have a good relationship with the family you’ll be living with, open communication, and some ground rules. It’s really important that if you are moving in with a parent and have kids that they can relate to you as an adult friend, not just their kid, and can respect any parenting differences.

    It’s also important that you can relate to them as an adult friend, not just your parent, and can be open to suggestions as if they came from any other veteran of the parenting trenches, and can accept that they may do things a little differently if/when they are watching your children. You have to be able to talk about that stuff and everyone has to be willing to make room for other’s needs.

  6. Growing up, my best friend lived in a multi-generational household, where her grandparents (who were immigrants from the phillipines) had settled and raised her mom who had then raised my friend and her sister in that house where their grandparents were still living. I don’t know the specifics, but it seemed to work out fine for them. It definitely made it easier on my friend’s parents, who wouldn’t have been able to afford the house otherwise, and it definitely resulted in them being a very close family.

  7. I am living in a co-housing situation with my in-laws and fiancé. My fiancé added on to his parents house a few years ago and moved back in in order to take care of them. He took care of the mortgage and never intends on moving, so when we first started dating, I did so knowing that if we were to end up becoming serious, that would mean living with him and his parents. So when the time came that we discussed the possibility of me moving in, we sat down not just him and I, but also with his parents to make sure they were okay with it. It worked well for us, because we have our own separate entrance and essentially our own living area on the one side of the house. We share the kitchen, backyard, and other main spaces, but we all have our own separate areas to retire, which allow us our privacy. While it has its challenges in all of us living together, the benefits out weigh those challenges, I think it is all about figuring out what works for you and your family. Now that we are getting married, we intend to later bring children into our home, which will add it’s own level of challenges, but also it means that our children will have their grandparents right there to see regularly. Family is important to both of us and because of the care he has shown for his parents, I know that as my own parents age and need more care, that we will be able to care for them in the way that I would hope, without it being a hardship to agree on.

  8. My husband and I currently live with my mom and brother. We’re relatively newlyweds. My family and I have always had a really good relationship, however, this has been pretty trying on our relationship. Mostly it’s that boundaries are either not established or have been crossed. They like to give input on things that should stay between my husband and me sometimes. It’s a huge learning experience for all of us, but I think that it’s worth it for all of us. It’s very helpful financially as well. So long as you can draw boundaries and are able to have some time and space to yourselves occasionally, you should do just fine. Best wishes!

  9. We are in the process of buying a multi-generational home with my in-laws- and I love them, I am not worried about the actual event at all. I can admit though that house hunting is exhausting. We have 4 kids so we constitute 6 ppl and they are 2, there are also a small zoo. The worst part has been gauging expectations. I am up against a woman who often wants to outdo the unknown Jones’s and that is exhausting also. I could care less. I came from money and it was miserable, the wall to wall white carpeting doesn’t keep it’s self clean and I can’t afford help. A beautiful expensive house does not a happy family make. HOA measuring the grass and the bushes – I definitely wont be able to have chickens if she has her way. I research every aspect of the possible location, the price is only the beginning, the amenities are important because of the children, the laid-backness/personal responsible ratio of the neighborhood is important also- I like to see bikes and basketball hoops and kids, but I like to see mowed lawns and moderately kept bushes and driveways. I NEED to be able to access public transit becasue we are working and finishing school. Middle class is perfect- snobby high class is unnecessary. Ive been there and done that, it is NOT worth half a million dollars. She wants the facade and I want the real situation, I don’t care if it comes with pink shag carpeting because it is 50K less and we are goign to be paying this off until we are too old to manage. I get it and I feel for her, she wants the princess package, this is the last house they will buy ( with us) and that is why it is important to live somewhere livable and enjoyable for the kids. This process has worn me down to the nub. Searching and compiling info until 3 am and having her say- what do you think? But finally realizing that the only house she has any concrete info on is the one that we can’t afford in the most un-accessible part of town. I feel frustrated. She approached this idea by offering to do this instead of give us inheritance, but it isn’t a gift at all because we are going to be basement dwellers, we aren’t even really part of the family in this place she has decided on. So we are stuck even if it is completely inappropriate when we get there. Stuck by proxy of our “gift.” I love them so much I hate being disagreeable, I am starting to feel really disagreeable now that we have to choose soon and I know the choice isn’t ours and it most likely wont reflect our needs or our financial situation. If anything happened we would be bankrupt. I wish I could convince her that you can change looks, but you can’t change livability – really a dream is something you make not something that comes prepackage at 50K but at 50K we won’t be able to afford to make anything should it be lacking in anyway. I have been so honest and strait forward and it just goes in one ear and out the other. I am so tired all of the time since this adventure- turned fiasco began. Cant wait to get through this part.

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