My mother was instrumental in connecting me with Sharron for this interview about multigenerational living. (Thanks mom!) As I’ve said before, it is a thrill for me to connect with other multigenerational families who have a full-time or temporary multigenerational household.
I was honored to talk with Sharron and I learned a lot. We discussed multigenerational living, shifts in views about the construct of a family, and how to keep love at the top of the priority list.
Who’s in your multigenerational nest?
Sharron – 63 (single mother)
Daughter – 41
Son – 30
Granddaughter – 22 (daughter’s daughter)
Granddaughter – 2.5 (son’s daughter)
How long have you had your multigenerational nest?
My daughter left the country and was in and out of the house on leave. My oldest granddaughter would come in and out on college breaks. She is 22 now and lives in Florida.
My daughter returned to the United States in May 2010 and has been living full-time with me.
My son returned home, to my house, in September 2010. He was living in Florida before that.
How did your adult kids approach you about moving back in?
My daughter’s tour was ending and she expressed interest in wanting to come home. She asked me if it was OK and we continued to talk about it prior to her returning in May 2010.
My daughter was not going to have her own place in Arizona, so moving back to Wisconsin, to live with me, seemed like the best next option. My daughter was traveling back-and-forth for about six months. She was job hunting and my house (in Wisconsin) was her home base.
I liked the idea of her returning home and I was looking forward to it.
What about your son? How was the moving back process for him?
My son had been out of work since 2008. I had encouraged him to move back home so that he didn’t have to struggle. My daughter and I had been contributing, periodically, to his day-to-day living expenses. I thought it would be better and easier if he came back home and would live with us.
He was resistant to this and he refused my offer for a while. He was living with friends and trying to make this work because he did not want to move back in with his mother.
In June 2010, a high school/college friend of my son’s told him about a construction job opportunity. The job was in Wisconsin and would involve my son helping out the friend’s brother with a construction business. I thought this was ideal.
My son came to live with me for about a week and then the job opportunity turned into a six month gig. This changed the amount of time my son would be living with me. The added complexity and bonus was my son would move back in and his 2.5-year-old daughter would be coming with him. The plan was for my youngest granddaughter to live with us for about a month and a half.
Wow. That’s a lot of changes all at once. Seems like your nest filled up quickly.
Yes. There were a lot of quick changes.
Why has it been meaningful for all of you to share a multigenerational home?
As a single parent, I remember how hard it was for me to raise my children, by myself, without close proximity of my family.
I look at our multigenerational household as an opportunity to get to know my kids as adults. It’s nice to see their transformation from children to adulthood. The conversations we have are different. We discuss politics and world events, which allows me to learn about what interests them.
Living with my children now allows me to play an advisory and guiding role. I can continue to encourage my children to have spiritual life to support their day-to-day living. Religious health is a strong family value for us.
What are the advantages of multigenerational living for your family?
We have a really good time. Unfortunately I have been experiencing some health issues. My children have stepped up and supported me in my recovery.
My daughter does the laundry and all the grocery shopping, which is great because I’ve never enjoyed grocery shopping. My son does what I call the “heavy stuff” like vacuuming, mopping, and moving things out of the basement. The basement has been a cluttered area for about 4-to-8 years due to storage challenges, but now that’s being remedied.
What is the funniest thing that has happened in your multigenerational household?
It’s funny how territorial you become about living space. I was using all of the closets when I was living by myself. All of a sudden, I had to get rid of stuff and create room for my children. This forced me to do a bunch of cleaning and purging.
Then my kids were playfully arguing over which room was theirs; it was funny and not at all serious. My oldest granddaughter had her own room at my house. My daughter got the larger bedroom because she moved back first. When my son returned home, there was a bit of jealousy and discussions around who had naming rights over which rooms. It was interesting to watch.
I totally get that. Sometimes it’s hard to shift your thinking about something that was clearly yours at some point in your life.
Are there disadvantages to having a multigenerational household?
You have to constantly be aware of discretion and wearing appropriate clothes at all times.
Exactly! I’m using my robe more than ever.
Since I have an older home, there is only one full-bath and a half bath. There is only one bathroom with a shower, so initially we had shower traffic jams. My kids tend to take longer showers and spend a long time primping in the bathroom. This can sometimes make things tense.
So far privacy has not been a major issue. We are all grown-ups so we respect each other’s privacy.
How does your multigenerational household handle finances?
Fortunately this was not an issue for us and things fell into my place.
My daughter and oldest granddaughter are both in school. My daughter started buying groceries and toiletries as her contribution to our multigenerational family.
My son, when he returned to live with me, had just gotten a job after a two year search. I knew he wouldn’t have a lot of money to throw around so I offered to pay for daycare initially, for my youngest granddaughter. Our agreement was that I would help with daycare payments until he was able to figure out another option. Since my youngest granddaughter will not live with us full-time, I knew my financial contribution to daycare would be temporary.
My son is still taking care of some expenses in Georgia, so I have to be creative and think of other ways he can contribute to our multigenerational household. This is a work in progress.
My multigenerational family typically eats dinner together Monday through Friday? How does this work for your household?
Everyone is busy in our multigenerational family and no one really has the time to cook a big meal. Everyone is on their own during the week and on Saturday, when things are at a slower pace, we may have breakfast together.
We do enjoy having a nice Sunday meal together after church. This works well for us.
Do you have any tips and/or advice you’d like to share with others who may be considering a multigenerational living arrangement?
1. Realize your children are adults and you can’t govern their lives.
2. They are your roommates now – even though there is a relational relationship.
3. Your grown-up children will come and go as they please.
4. When your adult children are moving back in, you are not getting your kids back. You’re getting grown-ups back who happen to be your children.
5. Don’t plan your life around your adult kids. You need to have your own schedule.
6. Make sure you have our own social outlets so you are not relying on your adult children to play that role.
7. Being together and hanging out should not be obligatory.
8. You, as the parent, cannot push your own values onto your adult children. You have to trust the way you raised them and be comfortable with that.
9. Make sure everyone is respectful.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I can say it has been a joy. I truly believe it had been a Godsend to have my adult children living with me. Overall my health has not been great and this has been exhausting. My kids are so helpful and they look after me. It’s a joy to see my kids caring for me and being concerned about my welfare. I’m proud of the people they’ve become.
Thank you, Sharron, for your interview and supporting it’s a full nest.