The number of multigenerational households is on the rise, according to 2009 to 2011 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. More than four million United States residents live in multigenerational families, which are defined as households containing at least three or more generations. Known as the Boomerang Generation, three-in-ten adults, ages 25 to 34, have moved home to live with parents and bring a child with them, according to the Pew Research Center, an organization providing information about trends in the United States and around the world.
Establish an understanding about the ground rules prior to move-in whenever possible. Communication from start to finish is a key element for making a multigenerational arrangement work, according to Robyn Griggs Lawrence, a writer with PBS’ “Next Avenue,” a show about how Baby Boomers live. Lawrence suggests that you cover areas such as the rules the child currently must follow and how misbehavior is handled. Discuss any changes to the rules when the child begins living in a multigenerational house. If the child is not yet born, you can still discuss the rules the child’s parent plans to use. Both parties need to agree that the child’s parent has the primary say in all matters that affect the child.
Prepare written rules about when and how the grandparent will provide childcare for the grandchild. If frequent childcare is a part of the arrangement, so the parent of the child can work or attend school, it needs to be clear. Establish rules, such as the parent is responsible for parenting her child when she is home, and the grandparent is responsible when the parent is out of the home. This helps the child understand it isn’t permissible to ask Grandma for permission to do something if Mom is at home or if the child doesn’t like Mom’s decision. A united and clear front helps reduce the friction that can occur when both parent and grandparent share responsibility for the child.
Ask the grandparents to limit advice to times when it is solicited whenever possible. It’s tempting for grandparents to offer wisdom about how they might deal with a situation, but the responsibility for the child belongs to the parent. The parent needs to understand that sometimes unsolicited advice will be given, and a good response is, “Thanks for that advice. I’ll consider it and let you know what I decide.” That response allows the parent to gently remind the grandparents of the boundaries and to allow both generations to communicate ideas with respect.
Create some private space that allows the parent to retire with the child to take the primary parenting role. Separate spaces allow the combined families to maintain independence and a separate life, writes Kelly King Alexander, author of “How Multigenerational Families Live Under One Roof” in Ladies Home Journal. Grandparents can withdraw to another part of the house to allow parents and child to have separate routines and time to be a family. There can be time for everyone to do things together and time for the individual family groups to do things alone.
Minor disagreements are easier to handle when everyone is treated with respect.