Multigenerational Living: How to Make it WorkMultigenerational Living: How to Make it Work

Grandparents head the vast majority of multigenerational households now, and more young adults now live with their parents than with their romantic partners. According to the Pew Research Center and Grandparents United, these trends are reversing a 130-year American pattern of leaving the nest early in life and a post New Deal-pattern of seniors living on their own well into very old age. If you’re thinking about bringing three (or more) generations under one roof, here are some suggestions on making it work.

Arrange your space for privacy as well as togetherness

Everyone in your household needs a private space of their own. At a minimum, individual bedrooms can provide everyone a place that’s just theirs, and if you’re moving family members into your home or moving into theirs, that may be the only way to set up private space.

Some families design their home from the ground up with multigenerational living in mind. This amazing 6-bedroom Salt Lake City home has was built to give the homeowners and their parents a good balance of privacy and togetherness, with two kitchens, living rooms, and dining rooms joined by a common space for extended family get-togethers.

New construction isn’t an option for many families, but converting a garage or second floor can be a less costly way to create privacy, as long as your local building codes allow it. Understand your local zoning laws before you start making renovation plans.

Distribute chores and expenses according to ability and interest

Expect to have more than one discussion about chores and bills to make sure everything’s fair. This is especially true when it comes to childcare for the youngest members of the household. Talk it over before making assumptions about who will watch the kids, and make sure you’re not overloading one person with housekeeping and another with expenses. Figure out what everyone can contribute and write it down.

Set a schedule

Let everyone know when mealtimes will be, when pets should be fed and walked, when the kids get home from school, what time quiet hour begins in the evening, and when everyone can have their turn using the washer and dryer. If you or your parents have a home health aide, their schedule should be posted, too. The more schedule items you spell out in advance, the fewer opportunities there will be for conflict or misunderstanding. As with the chore and bill lists, write the schedule and post it where everyone can see it.

Make the home accessible and safe for everyone

Even if you can’t afford to convert the garage, some home modifications pay big dividends in terms of safety. You may need to install grab bars in the bathroom, add brighter lighting, and make room among the furniture for a walker or wheelchair. Throw rugs should be removed, and children’s toys should be kept off the floor to prevent falls.

By the same token, if there are small children in the household, everyone needs to follow childproofing guidelines such as covering electrical outlets, keeping cleaning supplies and medications out of reach, and hanging window-blind cords where kids can’t get tangled in them.

Enjoy your time together

Organizing a multigenerational household is a lot of work, especially at first, but the payoff can be worth it. Your grandchildren or children will benefit from having more adults on hand for supervision, guidance, and fun. The adults in the home can save money, help each other run the household, and enjoy each other’s company. Those benefits are hard to beat.


Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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