Whenever I explain to someone that our family has multi-generational living situation, I always get one of two responses.
“I could never do that!” or “I wish I could do that!”
Multi-generational living is a polarizing topic, and it’s not the life for everyone. However, with salaries not rising as quickly as the cost of living, more and more households are making the transition to add generations into the mix.
Living in a multi-generational house, no matter the evolution, has defined who I am as a mother and wife. Seeing my mother and grandmother “in the trenches” through the good and the bad has structured the way that I both parent and partner.
I am by no means an expert of multi-generational living (though I have done it for the vast majority of my life), but I do know that there can be a lot of assumptions and questions about living situations like ours.
We’ve heard them all. And together, we’ve come up with a list of things we’d like you to know about multi-generational living.
This one is probably the most important for our household – both internally and externally. In our particular mix we have marriages, in-laws, siblings, parents and children. Internal boundaries can be as simple as knocking on a door before you enter to as complex as leaving the room when an argument begins. External boundaries mean that what happens in the house stays in the house. For instance, finances are obviously a topic of discussion to make sure the bills are paid. But we don’t have access to everyone’s checkbook in the house, and we don’t discuss our internal financial agreements outside of the house – and believe me, we’ve been asked.
We’re no Brady Bunch.
We don’t get along every moment of every day. We have our fair share of tension and tempers, but we also know how to give each other space. Most evenings we break out after dinner in different rooms and see each other only to say good night. Again, boundaries are so very important to nurture the different relationships in the household.
Structure and routine are key.
In our household we have three working adults (with different shifts) and a school schedule to keep track of, along with doctor’s appointments, “normal” chores and errands, and extracurricular and volunteer activities for six people. We know who gets up and when, how to maneuver the bathroom situation, and which car needs to be where in the driveway. Our family calendar is detailed, color-coded and filled. Things aren’t always perfect, but we’re a pretty well-oiled machine. Communication is crucial to avoid assumptions. In our house, assumptions mean that our garbage carts aren’t emptied for the week, that someone isn’t getting picked up from work/school, or that no one is getting fed that evening.
Don’t take each other for granted.
This is probably the easiest to execute but the hardest to remember to do. A simple “thank you” can go a long way even for the simplest of tasks! Believe me, my husband and I know we are so very lucky to have extra sets of hands to help us out with our son – especially with school pickups and being able to run errands. We do know (and want you to know, too) that we do NOT have built-in babysitters. We have an amazing support system that we utilize but we realize they have their own lives and their responsibilities are not to raise our child.
Embrace the chaos.
We like to say that we put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Our rooms are full (and cluttered), but our hearts hold even more. A family, just like a chain or a machine, is only as strong as its weakest link. And living together, we continuously have the opportunity build each other up to full strength so we’re stronger together. Laughter is our love medicine and many dinners end with us clutching our sides with tears in our eyes. Not every day is paradise, but we realize just how lucky we are to be living with our children, our parents, or our siblings. We have a bond that is envied (or so we hear). But just know: the chaos is real and we embrace it on the daily.