After many years of working with multigenerational families, and now that I, too, live in a multigenerational household with my parents and their live-in caregiver, I've learned a lot. Here's a roundup of my tips for those of you in similar situations - or those of you contemplating moving in with family members.
- Plan ahead. Protect your family relationships by talking through boundaries, use of space, and various ways you can communicate what's working and what is not on an ongoing basis. Clear roles and responsibilities are crucial to success - put it in writing if that helps. Remember that sometimes little things can drive you crazy, so be as specific as possible. Everyone will have to give a little and make some sacrifices in this situation so be clear about your major deal-breakers ... If always being the one to empty the dishwasher really grates on you, say so and create a kitchen task assignment schedule. Don't keep quiet and let resentment build up - it could lead to a nasty blowup you don't want.
- Organize shared expenses. For most families, money is a sticky subject. Create both individual budgets and a shared household budget. Be clear about who is paying for what and how bills will be paid. There are many ways to slice it. For example, you could create a shared checking account in which all members of the household deposit funds; one family member could collect from the others and pay all the bills; or each could pay different household bills. Those with fewer resources could contribute in other ways - such as housecleaning or caregiving. Whatever you come up with, periodically reevaluate the plan to ensure that it is working.
- Use space and technology wisely. Make sure your home is ready for sharing. Create some private space and time for everyone. Ensure safety and ease for all ages and integrate technology appropriately. Some families look for a home designed for multiple generations, others remodel an existing home. A few key minor modifications may do the trick.
- Facilitate interaction. You have a golden opportunity with more than one generation living in the same space - take advantage of it! As a family, create routine time together - whether it be shared meals, game nights, multigenerational movie nights or family conversations.
- Go with the flow. There are bound to be conflicts, frustrations and moments when you long for privacy and freedom. Accept this as fact, and when it happens it won't be so unexpected or catastrophic. Get a little time away, get clear on priorities and go back to your family with a loving approach. If you set up regular times to talk about challenges you'll be all set to bring up suggested changes when the time comes. If compromises can't be struck, consider a professional family mediator to help iron out the nitty-gritty aspects of your living situation.
For more on the fantastic NBC Nightly News series on caregiving and the sandwich generation, watch these segments and additional exclusively online video which you can view immediately after the segments - keep your browser open and they will start automatically:
- Caregiver Stress
- Critical Family Conversations and my blog post: Tips for Difficult Family Conversations
- Multigenerational living