by Ashley Coombe
The idea of multigenerational living has always appealed to me. I am very attracted to the concept of many people working together for the good of one household, so my parents and I have often discussed the idea. Two years ago, it became a reality after my parents returned from a trip to an Indian orphanage. They came home feeling like they had too much room in their house, and offered to let us live there with them for a year to pay off debt. We accepted, and a week later we were living with them!
We agreed to discuss the possibility of making the arrangement long term, or even permanent, after one year. When we sat down to discuss it, we each admitted the benefits of living in a multigenerational arrangement far outweighed the small sacrifices we each made. We made the choice to co-purchase the home and raise our kids in a home with their grandparents.
How do we make it work?
None of us are very good at setting rules and sticking with them long term (made obvious by our tendency to eat poorly!). While we initially set boundaries when we moved in, things change so quickly in our household the “rules” have to change quickly as well. For example, we originally set that I would have the washer and dryer during the week, and my mom could use it on the weekends since she works during the week. Then, as my parents began traveling a great deal on the weekends, that no longer worked for them. Initially, we planned on switching off making meals every other night. That plan didn’t work out either. Instead of having meetings constantly to revise our set up, we try to follow three simple rules.
- Be A Blessing to the Others in the Household. We each try to go above and beyond respecting – instead we try to be a blessing to each other. If respecting someone means rinsing off your dishes when you are done with them, being a blessing to them means rinsing theirs off too, and emptying the dishwasher while you are standing there.
- Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt. Obviously, there are going to be times when you walk into the house and none of the dishes are done. Give others in the household the benefit of the doubt that they likely tried to get the dishes done but something got in the way. Then be a blessing to them and do the dishes J
- Bring your strengths to the table, and cover up for others’ shortfalls. Each of us in the household has specific strengths, and some glaring weaknesses. My strength is organization, so I tend to put groceries away and organize them. My husband’s strength is getting us all motivated, so we utterly rely on him to get us moving to do the yard work on Saturdays instead of putting it off one more week. My dad is amazing with technology, so he updates all of our computers and keeps us in the know about new television advancements (we just put a new apple tv in our room!). My mom is amazing at finding deals online, so when we need something for the house, she hops on eBay or Amazon and finds the perfect item for a great price. Rather than getting frustrated that someone is not helping enough in one area, we realize that we each have varying strengths, and we pick up each other’s slack in those areas. Then we are more apt to give grace in an area of weakness!
No matter the boundaries we set, from who does the grocery shopping to when we shower, as long as we’re working to be a blessing to each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the strengths we each bring to the table, we are able to make the household work smoothly.
The Benefits of Living in a Multigenerational Household are Amazing.
During our one-year discussion, each one of us mentioned how much we had grown during our time living together. Learning to live with in-laws isn’t all that different than initially learning to live with a spouse, and the experience stretches you as a person in ways you couldn’t have imagined previously. I am less easily irritated, more patient, more forgiving, and have fewer pet peeves. My living situation has made it imperative that I grow in those ways!
My mom mentioned this week that she no longer feels as though relationships are as fragile as she once believed. We’ve worked so hard to honor each other as adults (very different than when we lived together when I was a teenager!) and worked through so many small issues that she knows our relationships can weather the storms of daily life without leaving scars. She wasn’t sure of that before!
The biggest benefit of living together has been the affect on my children. They have the opportunity to have the kind deep relationships that only come from living together day in and day out with adults other than just their mom and dad. They have adults other than us that they have to obey and respect, and get to trust and spend time with. They see us respecting our elders, just the way we expect them to respect us. It’s been so valuable for their growth as well!
My dad and my husband have become very close friends, and always have another guy to watch sports, work on cars, smoke cigars, and discuss guy stuff with. My mom and I often cook dinner and talk about our days together, a memory I will always cherish. Obviously, the financial benefits are huge, and our kids have all kinds of opportunities they would not otherwise, from family trips to martial arts. Dan and I are able to go out on date nights after we put the kids to bed any night we want.
Actually, now that I think about it the biggest benefit is definitely sleeping in on Saturdays J My daughters are early risers, and so is my dad. Instead of waking us up now, they go downstairs. He makes them hot tea, and they all go out on the porch and watch the sunrise together under a bundle of blankets. We get to sleep until at least seven o’clock every Saturday! (Our definition of sleeping in has changed a little since we’ve had kids…)
It takes a lot of work to live with three generations, just as any relationship takes a lot of work, but we have absolutely enjoyed our time together, and look forward to making many more years of multigenerational living work for us!