Almost 40 percent of Millennials are living at home with the folks —longer than any previous generation since the start of WWII. That’s a startling statistic, though perhaps not so incredible given skyrocketing rents and college debt.
But what happens at the other end of the life spectrum, when Mom or Dad can no longer manage solo (or can no longer afford to live alone), and asks their adult child, “May I move in with you?”
While the majority of adult children say they want their parents to be able to age in place, only 20 percent want their parents to live with them as they grow old, according to a recent national survey by Senior Helpers. (Bear in mind that this company is a provider of in-home senior care.)
Nearly 60 percent of the 1000 Boomers and GenXers surveyed said they feel their parents will have a more positive experience aging at home than in an assisted living facility. That’s pretty much a no-brainer. But what does living together look like in practice?.
Pros and Cons of Multigenerational Households
Many variables factor into the shared housing equation, starting with the elder’s level of self-sufficiency. One middle-aged man, for instance, said yes when his 72-year-old mother asked to move in. She’s engaging, mentally sharp, and a delight to have around. But she has “bad knees” and uses a cane, which prompted her son to investigate retrofitting his house so mom will be safe.
Another mom’s request to live with one of her children isn’t feasible: she has dementia, which is worsening over time. Her trio of sons found a secure assisted living community close to one brother’s residence. He visits regularly, often taking his mother to Sunday church services, which are very important to her. But by the time another son phones mid-week, she’s forgotten about the Sunday outing and frets that she needs a car so she can drive to church.
It’s a stressful situation for the distant son, who knows his mother is much better off living in a memory care community than with his family. “It’s a balance between needing to put my immediate family (wife and kids) first, and wanting to do right by my mom, who raised us singlehandedly after my dad died — and did a great job,” he says with feeling.
Making Multigenerational Living Work
The concept of multiple generations living together isn’t new; up until the 1940s, most family units included an assorted blend of relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The nuclear family grew in popularity during the economic (and baby) boom of the late 1940s and 1950s, becoming mainstream in the ensuing decades when assisted living and other forms of retirement housing emerged as an option for seniors.
Now, however, multigenerational households are again gaining ground, due to:
- Longer life spans that lead to a need for more support;
- Decreased senior financial resources as a result of living longer;
- Depression, isolation and loneliness, especially once a spouse dies;
- Increasing health care costs.
If an older adult doesn’t have a HECM and it seems sensible to have them move in, it would be prudent for adult children and their parent(s) to, first:
- Evaluate the home. What modifications will help improve the living environment so everyone is more comfortable? In addition to senior enhancements such as grab bars or wider doors, consider whether adding an in-law unit or a separate cottage on your property might make sense. Maybe you just need an extra bedroom or bathroom — or some added insulation so your teen’s music doesn’t give grandpa a headache.
- Communicate clearly. It might seen like overkill to write up shared housing duties, or outline on paper who is responsible for what expenses, but this can save a lot of heartache down the road. Just as your parents may have had a “chore board” or similar for you and your siblings growing up, clarifying in writing who will handle what aspects of shared living can facilitate family conviviality.
- Discuss home care and senior support. If a family member will assume such responsibilities, will they be paid as a hired caregiver would be? If not, how will their time and energy be compensated in terms of family responsibilities and income? If everyone agrees to hire outside help, who pays for this assistance?
- Decide what will prompt a re-evaluation. What if your parent reaches a point where they need more care than family members can provide? Discuss and decide in advance when assisted living, memory care, or some other type of community setting would be more appropriate for the senior who’s now going to share your home.
It takes a high degree of emotional intelligence to have this kind of detailed discussion with loved ones. And, it’s the best way to ensure everyone will be content with a multigenerational housing arrangement for a long time to come.