October 23, 2014

UNDER ONE ROOF- Multi-generational Living


When we were growing up, grand-parenting seemed mostly ceremonial. There were some visits and vacations, lots of hugging, some dinners and holidays, and respect for our elders.  We went on and formed our own lives and families, and visiting the grandparents was relegated to now and then. Some of us were lucky enough to have grandparents who were integrally involved in our family life. Others did not.  

Today, the climate has changed. Many great-grandparents, whose families are close by, are much more in a hands-on care giving role. Here are some very enlightening and thought provoking statistics: 

    “Grandfamilies are families headed by grandparents and other relatives who share their homes with their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and/or other related children. About 7.8 million children across the country live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. About 2.7 million grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren's needs. In about a third of these homes neither of the children's parents are in the home.”  

Today, great/grandparents have a lot to deal with: their health, jobs, retirement, caring for their parents, and other personal issues. What happens when a teenage/adult child asks if he/she and their family can move in for awhile, for whatever reasons (divorce, drugs, loss of job, heavy financial burdens, illness, etc.)?
  A portrait of America’s households, drawn from an AARP analysis of U.S. Census data, shows a 25 percent increase this decade in the number of arrangements with multiple generations living under one roof. According to an AARP Bulletin poll on how the economy has affected the living conditions of adults age 50-plus, more than one in 10 said they live with their grandchildren or their parents. When asked what would drive parents and children to move in together or with a friend, if they hadn’t already, 34 percent cited loss of income.”                                     

In most instances, there aren’t too many alternative choices.  It’s going to be a hard financial, physical and emotional challenge for both families.  Some experts say that are ways to make the multi-generational family situation livable.

Find and join a grandparenting or “Grandparents as Parents” group (www.grandparentsasparents.org/).  They are all over the country.  Also check with AARP, Generations United, your doctor, community organizations (such as United Way), faith-based organizations, and/or social workers. Sharing experiences with others in like situations is often very helpful.
Find a friend that you can trust.  Put that person on “speed dial” for when you need to talk about what’s going on. Be available to reciprocate.  It’s a two-way street.

Have a “FAMILY” discussion, with everyone involved, to set some clear guidelines and limits, so that EVERYONE knows what the rules are. Rules for bathroom and laundry usage, mealtimes, financial arrangements, visitors, childcare, and rules of common courtesy. Everyone should commit to following through.

Although it may be difficult, it is important to maintain your own identity, friendships and routines.
Do your best to keep the lines of communication open with your family.  Everyone, including you, will be testing and testy.

Establish the rules of discipline of the great-grandchildren. You may be more permissive, or stricter, than the parents. For the benefit of the children, there needs to be a meeting of the minds.

Agree to what you can agree on…and be clear about YOUR needs and limitations.  This would include routines such as babysitting, after-school pick up, doctor appointments (yours and theirs), etc. Perhaps a chart can help.  When things are clear, there’s less chance of having hard feelings.

If things get too tough, think about family therapy (available through HMO’s, social work agencies, other community resources, etc.).

It’s all about power. High on the list of challenges, is sharing power between great/grandparents, who are used to ruling the roost in their home and their adult children, who are used to doing the same in their home.  Be a listener because nasty conflicts can arise. 

Be understanding of your adult children’s issues. Often you are taking some of the responsibility of parenting, which they can’t provide and hard feelings can surface. 

Many families are entitled to use public assistance, food stamps, food banks, and other band-aids to help them survive. Suggest that they research community, faith-based, school resources, etc. to see what is available to them.

Pick your battles!

There are many examples of heart wrenching situations where multi-generational families are pushed to the limits and sometimes over it.  The love-hate parent/child relationship becomes a huge factor. The financial burden, the psychological trauma, and the feelings of claustrophobia are almost insurmountable.  

This is all so overwhelming, but it can be creatively managed.  We know of examples where families live together and thrive.

There are millions of great-grandparents who are the sole providers and care takers of their great-grandchildren.  The parents are absent.  While many of these suggestions can be helpful, much more support and assistance is needed to help them as they become “parents” again.