IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

In lean times, grandparents lend a hand

As Barack Obama’s mother-in-law makes plans to move into the White House to help care for Malia and Sasha, AARP notes a national upswing in the number of grandparents moving in with their adult children. Here, tips to make a happy multigenerational home.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Once upon a time, multigenerational households were the rule in an America that was still primarily rural and based on the family farm. We’re not exactly back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, but for nearly a decade the trend has been heading in that direction.

From 2000 to 2008, the number of multigenerational households in the United States increased 10 percent to 6.2 million households — 5.3 percent of all households in the nation. In those, 2.2 million consist of a head of household with a child and grandchild, 1 million are comprised of a parent, grandparent and child, and 1.99 million are comprised of a child with a parent.

When children move back in with their parents, it’s called the “boomerang effect,” and it has been accelerated by the deepening recession, according to a report filed for TODAY by correspondent Janet Shamlian.

“This is a cyclical trend,” Jenn Braunschweiger of More magazine told TODAY on Saturday. “We’ve seen much more boomeranging during times of recession. People lose their jobs, maybe their mortgages balloon out of control ... People turn to their families for help.”

Shamlian’s report dealt with children who lose homes or jobs moving back in with a parent or parents. But the reverse is also happening, according to AARP, which has noted an upswing in the number of grandparents moving in with their children, most commonly for cultural or economic reasons, but sometimes just to help.

The most famous such example is President Barack Obama’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, who is moving from her Chicago home to the White House to help first lady Michelle Obama care for her daughters, Malia and Sasha.

Some ethnic groups have a culture of several generations living together, according to AARP. One such group are Asians, and Hawaii, which has a large Asian-American population, leads the nation with 8.2 percent of all households being multigenerational.

The other reason is economic. According to AARP, areas where affordable housing is scarce see more multigenerational households than other areas.

According to AARP, 24 percent of boomers expect their parents or in-laws to move in with them. Half of those say they would welcome the addition to their households. Eight percent say they will charge parents or in-laws rent.

There can be many benefits from such arrangements, experts say. A primary one is passing on a sense of family history to grandchildren through their grandparents.

But, relationship experts caution, anyone contemplating moving in with their adult children or in-laws should first discuss how the combined household will function.

AARP has compiled a list of nine tips for a “happy multigenerational home”:

Prepare your home. Does your home work for everyone, little, big, young or old? Can your house accommodate someone who might find climbing stairs all day a challenge, would much prefer a walk-in shower or a single-handle faucet? design has helpful information to make your house safer and more comfortable for everyone.

Prepare your family. Communication is the key to peaceful multigenerational living. Have regular family conferences to discuss issues before they become problems. If you are all just moving in together, ask family members of all ages to talk about how they expect life to change, including what they want, what they are excited about and what they fear. Be specific: If grandparents are helping with child care, how much time will they spend baby-sitting? How do family members want to handle cooking and mealtimes? It's a great way to see where friction may occur and to head it off at the pass.

A place for everyone and everyone in their place. Decide how the living space in your home will be used. It's important that grandparents and grandchildren have their own places — bedrooms, maybe sitting rooms, or even corners of rooms — for favorite chairs, places to watch television, or study areas for homework. People feel more comfortable when they each have little patches of real estate to call their own.

Let them live their own lives. This is important, whether your parents are highly active and independent, or if they are being cared for. Opportunities to see their friends, continue activities they enjoy and have downtime are important at any age.

Get into a groove. Consistency will help minimize the inevitable disruptions. Keep to such routines as mealtimes and bedtime rituals. Parents — and grandparents — should also plan one-on-one time with their children and time for themselves — time to exercise and to keep up with their interests.

Make a playdate. Facilitate grandparent–grandchild interactions. Make sure they have fun times together. Many times, especially when living together, grandparents and children develop special, shared interests that create bonds and positive memories.

Don’t get caught in the middle. Often, parents are in no-man's-land trying to please the older and younger generations. If that describes your situation, take care of yourself: Get plenty of rest, make your time a priority and get support if you need it from a caregiving-support group. You can't be expected to take care of everyone if you are running on empty.

Be realistic. Only so much furniture can fit in a house; people can only be expected to change so much over a lifetime; teenagers are only going to want to hang out with their grandparents so much; elders will only be willing to handle a certain volume level on the stereo; there are only 24 hours in a day; and you can only be in one place at a time, no matter how much everyone needs you.

Make memories. Capitalize on the opportunities you have with multiple generations in the household. Share stories, look at photos, research family history, and record these things on audiotape or in a video. Have fun and treasure the time. While multigenerational households may be an increasing trend, they can enjoy opportunities many families will never have.