What It’s Like To Live In A Multi-Generational Home

Plenty of young millennials live in their parents’ basement. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t anyone’s first preference.

While there’s no doubt that there can be some benefits to multigenerational living, especially sharing expenses and caregiving, most people actually don’t want to live with their parents and grandparents. 

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In a recent survey, Green Builder Media’s COGNITION Smart Data market insights found that, given a choice, a multigenerational household was the second least popular option for millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers, just slightly behind living alone. 

Surprisingly, for “traditionalists,” the generation born between 1927 and 1945, a multigenerational household was the least popular option. In other words, your grandparents would rather live alone than with you.

The outlier generation is Gen Z, which found living alone or living with a partner and three or more kids to be even a little less appealing than a multigenerational household. These are people born between 1997 and 2012, so many of them have yet to leave the parental nest.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for multigenerational living, Pew Research found that the number of people living in a multigenerational household–defined as one with adults from two or more generations living together–quadrupled between 1971 and 2021 to nearly 60 million people by March 2021, which included 18% of the U.S. population.

Nearly one-third (31%) of people ages 25 to 29 lived in multigenerational households in 2021, according to Pew. And more of them are male; 37% of men in that age group live with their parents or grandparents, compared to 26% of women in that age range.

When Parents Don’t Recognize Boundaries

While there are plenty of proponents of multigenerational living, and it’s extremely common among many cultures, there are some complaints that young people share about the experience.

“I’m 35 years old, and I was a single mom for most of my adult life until about four years ago,” says Kacie Barlow , a motherhood and family blogger. “I had to live with my parents multiple times in my 20s. It never worked out for many reasons. While I love them, living with them as an adult plummeted my self-esteem as a woman and as a mother.”

Barlow says her parents’ generation was taught that if they needed help and confessed it, that was a sign of weakness.

“They grew up in a hustle culture where your worth was based on your productivity, as well as your independence,” Barlow says. “I felt very guilty if they even caught me sitting down, taking a break. I felt very judged in the way I would clean up or parent.”

Barlow says her parents wanted to know where she was at all times and give their parenting advice and their opinions on everything even though she was an adult. And her parents were also frustrated they were part of raising another child.

“My parents have this mentality that ‘I’ve raised my kids and now I’m done. It’s my time,’” Barlow says. “Even though I understood where they were coming from, my views are different. I believe family is forever, and I will always be here for my kids, even when they are grown adults, especially in hard times.”

Incompatible Lifestyles

Jenna Carson, a 35-year-old consultant with MusicGrotto , a music entertainment website, and her boyfriend needed to relocate quickly when the landlord of their long-term rental home decided to sell the house.

“The rental market was tight in our area, so we decided to move into my aunt’s three-bedroom house in Portland, Ore., as her housemates,” Carson says.

The couple agreed on the rent and utilities they would share with Carson’s aunt and thought if it worked out, they might make it a longer-term arrangement since Carson’s partner planned to return to college.

“We thought the arrangement would help my aunt, who was recently divorced and living alone, while giving us a place to stay and potentially save up some money towards a condo down payment,” Carson says.

While the three got along pretty well, in the end, their routines and habits weren’t ideal for cohabiting, she says.

“My aunt is a morning person who rises early even on the weekends, and my partner and I are night owls,” Carson says. “He’s often up late studying, and I often come in late on weekends after spending time out with friends. While we don’t consider ourselves noisy people, the thin walls and floors of my aunt’s old home let sound travel through.”

Housekeeping standards were also an issue.

“My partner likes to cook but isn’t the fastest to clean up in the kitchen,” Carson says. “My aunt admittedly calls herself a ‘neat freak,’ so our relationship was tested a bit when we all tried living together.”

Why Living With Your Parents Isn’t All Bad

For Rinal Patel, a millennial and co-founder of WeBuyPhillyHome in Philadelphia, living with her parents and grandparents comes with a few perks.

“Having a sense of family and community around me is wonderful, and I appreciate knowing that I can always count on my family for support when I need it,” Patel says. “Living among older generations has also given me a deeper understanding of cultural values and customs.”

But Patel acknowledges the challenges of multigenerational living, too.

“Living close to family members can occasionally cause friction and arguments, especially when it comes to contrasting opinions and lifestyles,” Patel says. “It might make it difficult to maintain one’s sense of independence and privacy.”

Patel’s advice to anyone considering living with their parents or grandparents is to establish clear limits and expectations with family members from the beginning and to work together to keep a harmonious, respectful home.

In addition, safety is important when you add older people to a housing mix. The National Council on Aging created Home Safety for Older Adults: A Comprehensive Guide 2023, which includes practical tips and resource recommendations from health professionals that is worth a review. 

Past Multigen Experience and Maybe Future

Frances Jean, a registered psychotherapist in Courtice, Ontario, Canada, and founder of oatstrawcollective.com , which helps second-generation immigrants who grew up in multigenerational households, grew up in a household of nine that included an aunt and her grandparents in addition to her parents and siblings.

“I found it comforting having people there all throughout the home at all times,” Jean says. “I found it quite lonely when I married my husband and moved into a home with just the two of us. I’d consider having a multigenerational household because one of the top things I want in life is a village to help me raise my kids.”

Still, she acknowledges that there are drawbacks to a multigenerational household where everyone had to share a bedroom and lacked privacy.

“I didn’t like how family members would take one another for granted much of the time and communicate with one another in a critical way,” Jean says. “Because of the close proximity, when two family members weren’t getting along, everyone knew it and had to walk on eggshells for weeks, months, or even years at a time.”

Jean says it’s unfortunately common in multigenerational households for people to avoid issues and then have them blow up eventually.

“I found there was a passive aggressiveness and emotional reactivity between so many relationships,” Jean says.

Still, she liked the way her family functioned and took care of each other.

“While my parents worked full-time jobs, my grandfather walked me and my sisters to and from school, and my grandmother cooked for us,” Jean says. “In the evenings, my mother would drive me and my siblings to our extracurricular activities, and my father would help with our homework. All the women in the family helped with the cleaning.”

Family Bonds Outweigh Lack of Space

While every multigenerational household has its own family dynamics, for some people interpersonal issues pale next to the benefits of building relationships and sharing expenses. Darren Bogus, 41, a content editor with shopping platform ShopLC.com , and his 39-year-old wife live with her parents in Austin.

“As a Navy brat, I never really got the chance to know my grandparents,” Bogus says. “In this living arrangement, my kids have been able to develop close relationships with two of their four grandparents. That’s really valuable to me, as I want them to have closer bonds with extended family than I did growing up.”

Bogus particularly appreciates having extra support for caregiving, especially because their daughter has a rare condition that requires emergency medication, and it’s easier than finding a sitter with medical training. His in-laws, who are retired, contribute to the financial health of the household, too.

“The main thing I don’t like is lack of space,” Bogus says. “It can feel like everyone is on top of everyone at times. Sometimes, boundaries are crossed, but that’s part of living with anyone.”

Multigenerational living isn’t for everyone, and clearly most people think they don’t want it, but it seems to work best when it’s a mutual choice and every member of the household can agree on the arrangements.

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