Survive the economy with shared housing

Multi-generational households are making a comeback for Boomers in the Sandwich Generation – especially with the lack of jobs available for new college graduates and the financial pinch felt by aging parents as their retirement incomes dwindle. Don’t be disappointed if you were dreaming about the empty nest. This new living arrangement can reduce stress, with more family members sharing household responsibilities, financial expenses and emotional support. That is, as long as guidelines are clearly set in the beginning and upheld.

Families today are facing a new kind of housing crisis as the economy continues to be problematic. When one spouse in a two-career marriage loses a job, making the monthly mortgage payment becomes difficult, especially for Sandwiched Boomers. Senior citizens who have been able to pay for housing from their retirement accounts must cut back on that expense when their retirement funds are down by 50%. When a mortgage begun with an artificially low interest figure calls for a rate increase or a balloon payment, the cost becomes prohibitive for the nuclear family.

These scenarios are not about Gen X and Gen Y kidults boomeranging back home, with connotations of immaturity or irresponsibility. Rather they reflect adults struggling with the real effects of a global financial meltdown not faced in over 75 years. An AARP study revealed that more than 1/4 of the foreclosures and delinquencies last year occurred among those 50 and over. These seniors and their adult children are looking carefully at what to do to ease the economic woes that have hit everyone hard.

Some younger families are moving in with their parents, pooling their funds for mortgage payments. In other cases, seniors are giving up their individual, larger homes and moving into ‘granny flats’ or guest suites on their children’s property. Irrespective of the type of arrangement and reason for combining two families into one home, some serious planning is needed before taking the plunge. Here are 6 tips to put into play before sharing daily life with extended family:

1. Have a family meeting to set guidelines before you move in together. Be frank and honest about your needs. You’ll each be giving up some autonomy and control so you can expect to have situations where push comes to shove. Present your positions for the best and worst case scenarios. Then decide how you want to compromise so that everyone gets some of what they want. Put any absolute deal breakers out on the table so they can be discussed in detail.

2. Set boundaries so that everyone’s privacy is respected. Living together with roommates in a college dorm is one thing but sharing space with adult family members can get awkward. Identify signals to use when one of you wants to be alone. The last time you all lived together, the circumstances were quite different. Old issues around power or dependency can resurface in this close environment, particularly when there may be a difference of opinion about how to handle issues with children/grandchildren.

3. Work out a schedule for shared responsibilities, chores and finances. Gain consensus about making the division of labor equitable. When children/grandchildren are part of the mix, arrive at a clear timetable with regard to babysitting so that no one feels exploited. The multi-generational experience can foster a closer relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, with the middle generation being able to step away from some care-giving tasks.

4. Respect the needs of everyone involved. When each person feels heard, it takes away some of the frustration stemming from the lack of control. You can be supportive to one another just by listening even if you don’t agree with the reason for the complaint. Use the techniques of active listening and sending I-messages.

5. Think about the problems that can arise and make a Plan B. Just because you all are having some difficulty with the new living arrangements doesn’t mean you have to discard the entire idea. Continue to schedule family meetings to discuss the issues and conflicts. Lack of privacy, intruding on other family members’ boundaries and unwanted advice are often sore points.

6. Be flexible and learn to love compromise and cooperation. Look at the situation from the perspective of other family members as you work on understanding their positions. You are all in this together and while you may not get exactly what you want, you can work out a solution that is good for everyone.

Generations living together can lead to a win-win situation. Even with the potential costs of remodeling to accommodate both families, maintaining one household rather than two creates considerable savings. And other positive outcomes develop. Support generated on both sides can serve as the foundation for resolving past misunderstandings, making forgiveness easier to accomplish. The close bonding allows for building rich memories to savor over the years. And the expression of gratitude is good for both giver and receiver. As the older generation continues to age, these times can be the impetus for planning care by a newly sandwiched generation, with grandchildren pitching in to help.

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