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Welcome to the new multigenerational household. It's a description that fits 49 million people, or 16 percent of American homes, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. That number is up from 28 million in 1980. The recent recession is one reason for the shift; increased immigration is another—today's immigrants are far more likely to live in a multigen home than native-born Americans. “This generation of parents is also putting a greater emphasis on the family unit, so having more time together has become much more important,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Under One Roof Again.
If you're debating this kind of a change, here's what to consider on this new road to happily ever after.
Consider the cash.
Take a look at your budget to see if an extra person in the house might rock your bank account. (Grocery bills will be higher, and renovations may be necessary to create more room.) A grandparent will usually want to help out, either financially, if that's possible, or in other ways.
Work the perks.
The benefits a senior brings go way beyond folding laundry. A 2009 study in the Journal of Family Psychology reported that kids who spend time with a grandparent have better social skills and fewer behavioral problems. Grandma also helps keep the family dinner alive, which the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has credited with kids' avoidance of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use.
Deal with the downside.
Built-in babysitting may seem dreamy, but having an oldster in charge isn't the same as the lively teen next door. “My mom is always cold, so she cranks up the heat and dresses the kids in long sleeves,” relates Liz Chang of Orlando, whose mom lives in and cares for Chang's two small children.
Discuss house rules.
If TV is off-limits during meals, let your mom and kids know this rule is in place even when you're away. But part of a grandparent's job is to spoil kids. “My boys get a few more treats than they need because my mom likes to indulge them,” says Elke Govertsen, a Missoula, MT, mom of two boys, ages 5 and 8. Also, make sure the kids know when Grandpa is “off duty,” and set up activities for just parents and kids, suggests Newman.
Embrace a new perspective.
A grandparent's arrival can unravel little mysteries, as Govertsen learned with her son, or even strengthen a marriage. Chang says her husband has noticed that she and her mom have some shared idiosyncrasies. “He's pretty understanding when I ask him to take out the trash when he's already doing it. He's learned a lot about me through watching my mom,” she explains.