You can become part of a multi-generation household by moving in with one of your adult children and his or her family. Though many seniors profess to want independence and a place with mild winters if they move anywhere, Graham said that multi-generation living offers something even better — the emotional intimacy that comes with frequent contact among family members and the opportunity to make a strong connection with your grandchildren and pass on your knowledge and experience. It’s also an opportunity to reconnect with your adult children at a different stage in both your lives.
For baby boomers, this idea is not so far-fetched, Graham said. Compared with their parents, the boomers have generally had closer relationships with their children, even though both boomer parents frequently worked outside of the home and spent fewer hours with their offspring.
Graham, 63, neither grew up in a multi-generation household nor lives in one now. But he does bring some unusual credentials and experience to his ideas. He said he plans to be living with one of his children by the time he reaches 70.
As a professor of marketing, his research focused on the ways that cultural differences affect consumer behavior. This led him to study everyday life and housing patterns in cultures around the world where the multi-generation or joint households are common. The closeness of those households was impressive, as was the contrast with the experience of most Americans, he said.
Graham thought that a joint household could work in the United States, and research done by his sister, Sharon Graham Niederhaus, bore this out. As part of her master’s thesis on accessory apartments, she interviewed more than 100 families successfully living in multi-generation households across the country. Joining forces, the siblings published “Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living” (M. Evans, $17).
Niederhaus found significant differences between joint households abroad and what works here. Traditionally speaking, a joint household lives together under one roof. In 21st-century America, however, Niederhaus found that joint households are more often distinctly separate entities living in close proximity. Separate entrances and kitchens are critical to success. Members of the households share many activities and frequently eat together, and the grandparents often take an active role in the care of their grandchildren. But, at the end of the day, each generation bids adieu and retires to separate quarters. In most cases, there is a standing rule to call ahead before visiting.
Why is 70 the right age for embarking on such a venture? Graham said that you are still young enough to adjust to living in a new town, making new friends and forming new social networks.