When I moved back in with my parents over a year ago, I could not have imagined the changes to come, or that my move home would last as long as it has. I didn’t know at the time that I’d graduate from college in my backyard, and celebrate my birthday in my hometown. Just as I became more comfortable living in suburbia with my immediate family, my grandparents also moved in with us. Our household of four grew to six and to say the past few months have been an adjustment would be an understatement.
Family roles and responsibilities immediately changed, and a generational hierarchy swiftly emerged as my grandmother’s care was prioritized above all else. I found myself at the bottom of the food chain, unsure of how to navigate a new territory and plenty of conflicting personalities. On top of that, I’m spending more time with my family than ever before out of necessity: In the past, I might have been able to come and go as I pleased, but the pandemic and the associated health risks meant my family was suddenly my world.
Living in a multigenerational home, which is defined as three or more generations in one household, is by no means uncommon: Before the pandemic, one in five Americans lived in one, and a new study from Generations United found those numbers have risen in the past year, with more than one in four Americans now living in a multigenerational household. Still, living in one for the first time can completely overhaul your day-to-day life, and people can potentially flounder in the new dynamics if they’re not prepared.
“A person has to adapt to the sudden change [of living in a multigenerational household], and if the person does not adapt well, then the result can take a toll on a person’s mental health,” Ana De La Cruz, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Apartment Therapy.
As more and more people change up what their living situation looks like, it will become vital to learn how to create a healthy and functional home life that includes people of all ages. Here are three lessons I’ve learned thus far, while living and keeping the peace in a multigenerational home.
Sometimes it’s not worth taking things to heart.
There are sure to be clashes when you live in a household with people of different ages and personalities. Nowadays, my mother and I fight almost every week, but if we let those clashes turn into grudges, we would not be able to live with one another much longer. I’ve learned how fights can easily blow over and how important it is to keep in mind what other people are going through. For example, I know my mom is stressed — hey, I’m stressed too! — and sometimes confronting the things that are bugging us alleviates tension and can serve as an outlet. That might look like fighting to an untrained eye, but it doesn’t mean we love each other any less.
If you’re having a more serious problem with a loved one, be sure to hear them out. “Valuing each other’s opinion and respecting each other’s beliefs will make a difference between our interactions,” De La Cruz advised. “Showing appreciation for someone else’s perspective of life will result in peaceful interactions, especially between the people we love the most.”
Whenever I have a tense argument with another family member, we’ll separate from one another and talk things out once we’ve both calmed down. This method has led to more understanding and less judgment.
Privacy is your friend…
I thought I understood the value of privacy once my college roommate and I started living in separate rooms. Yet, between the pandemic and getting accustomed to living in a multigenerational home, I’ve learned that privacy doesn’t only exist behind a closed door. Most days, my grandparents and mother occupy the main living area, which means if I want to be alone or want to decompress, I have to go to my room, which can quickly feel stifling.
I’ve had to get creative to find new ways to obtain personal space and alone time. Some days, I get up extra early, so I can lay on the living room couch that I miss so much, but I’ve also learned that privacy doesn’t only exist within a home. Whenever I take my dog out for a walk, it’s an opportunity to spend some time to myself, take a breath, and clear my mind. If I’m able to take a car and drive to a nearby park, I’ll take advantage of that access to go for a longer drive, listen to some music, and maybe pick up a treat for myself and my pup.
… But sometimes it’s better to do things together.
I’ve spent more time with my grandparents in the past few months than I probably have in my entire life — and I’m also spending more time with my parents than I have in the recent past. Before my grandparents moved in, my immediate family primarily operated by doing our own things, and staying out of each other’s way. That changed with my grandparents’ arrival. Now, we all make an effort to spend time with them and keep them entertained by doing puzzles together, coloring, watching movies, dancing together, and more. I’ve learned that no matter the age difference, shared activities allow us to connect, even on days when we don’t feel like talking.
Living in a multigenerational home, De La Cruz noted, “could be a positive change for everyone in the home if the relationships between one generation and the other generation grows into a healthy non-conflicted relationship.” I couldn’t agree more: My family’s relationship is stronger than ever because we’ve relied on one another during this period. My other bonds are stronger, too, since I’ve learned how to communicate and establish boundaries in a healthier way.
One day I’ll move out, and I’ll likely never have this significant time with my family again. Of course, that’s bittersweet, but now I’m well aware of the impact my family has made on who I am and who I’m becoming — I’ve seen it in real-time — and that will never go away.