The recession has pushed extended families closer together, with more parents and kids moving in with in-laws and relatives and friends, according to the latest census figures. A Post story last week on the trend reported that in the Washington region there’s been a 33 percent increase in the number of people living with extended family or friends.
“We haven’t seen anything like this since the Great Depression,” Frances Goldscheider, a sociologist who studies families told the Post.
Much of the increase is fueled by young adults moving back in with their parents while they look for jobs or endure unpaid or underpaid employment. I’ve recently touched on that topic with a post on the controversial new book ““How To Raise Your Adult Children,” by Gail Parent and Susan Ende (Plume, August 2011).
Another part of the trend includes nuclear families moving back in with older parents, which creates an entirely different family dynamic. It’s a lot more physical closeness, but not necessarily more emotional closeness. In many cases, the new arrangements can quickly pull apart relationships.
Of course, multiple generations have lived together for eons, and still do in much of the world and in many families in the U.S. But that model has not been the cultural norm here for many years.
The change has its upside. It can provide older people with more companionship and caregiving, can strengthen child-grandparent bonds and can allow adults to learn more about their own parents. Families moving in together can make all the difference when enduring a rough patch.
At the same time, the situation can also introduce new rough patches. There are more adults to negotiate discipline with, more voices in an argument, just more bodies in a room. Plus, these arrangements are usually borne out of turmoil such as a loss of a job, house or status, which is hard place for any new endeavour to begin.
I asked Fairfax therapist Meredith Gelman, who specializes in family counseling, for some advice for families in this new living arrangement. She started with three musts: communicate, set goals and regroup.
Gelman said, if possible, a good idea is for parents to sit down ahead of the move and talk out the overall approach to a new household, including working out the details of grocery shopping (who does it, who pays), childcare responsibilities, division of household labor, and how the children’s discipline will be handled. Once the parents are clear with each other, they should meet with the grandparents to discuss mutual expectations.
Follow-up sessions, which Gelman called “little summits,” should be coordinated periodically between all the adults and also just the parents, as relationships can sometimes break down along blood lines. “The key is that one spouse not get trapped between a spouse and her parents,” Gelman said.
Even if there was no pre-move-summit, Gelman said it’s never too late to start talking.
Gelman also suggests setting a series of goals. Big goals can be as ambitious as saving enough money for a new home, or for one or both spouses to get a job. Little goals are important too, such as revamping a resume or scheduling an interview because they create the sense for everyone that there’s progression.
Finally, Gelman said, there’s a need for each family unit to ”regroup.” At least once a week, Gelman advises each family unit to spend time together. Ideally, she said, the parents and children should negotiate a few nights living like old times, out of the fishbowl. Because there are not likely resources for a vacation, if the grandparents can schedule some time away, the parents and children can “vacation” at home. Gelman said even a regular inexpensive afternoon together can do the trick “to remind each other that they are an intact family.”
Gelman points out that grandparents will usually need some breaks themselves too, as a full house might be overwhelming. It’s a good idea for them “to get some rest and get away from all the stimuli.”
Are you or have you considered moving your family in with relatives? What are your coping mechanisms?