Many immigrant communities have made the choice to live in multigenerational homes, where children, parents and grandparents live under one roof. In many instances, grandparents are helping raise their grandchildren. Interestingly, many people from the non-immigrant community appear to have adopted this practice as well. There can certainly be a financial advantage (i.e. having grandparents look after the children so that both parents can work), but that is far from the only reason that so many multigenerational families choose to live together.
Some other common reasons include:
•children receive love and attention from grandparents that they may not otherwise receive if they were left with a family friend or at a daycare
•grandparents and parents can work together to keep an eye on the children, and to keep them away from negative influences.
•grandparents have already been through parenting, and can offer advice to their adult children
•looking after grandchildren helps keep grandparents feeling young
•with grandparents in the home, children are able to learn about their culture and religion and also practice their family’s mother tongue
•looking after their grandchildren gives grandparents a sense of belonging
•grandparents who live with their children have access to rides (i.e. for doctor’s appointments) and someone to interpret for them if they need it
•grandparents that look after their grandchildren and help out in the home are more confident that when they get older, their children and grandchildren will help to take care of them
•living in a multigenerational home promotes family unity and togetherness.
There are also potentially damaging issues that can arise in multigenerational homes. For example, some grandparents may have, though often will not express, concerns that their children are overburdening them with responsibilities and they may be losing their own independence (as they may spend much of their day with the responsibility of watching their grandchildren), or may fear that they will only be respected as long as they are considered useful, and that once they become too old to help out they will lose that respect.
There are several elements that need to be present for a multigenerational living arrangement to be successful. Living together can only work if the adults in the household: are flexible, attempt to understand each other’s views, are patient, keep an open mind, respect each other’s personal space and have a willingness to learn from each other. Openness of communication and regular dialoguing to ensure little problems do not grow to become big ones are key practices used in homes where multigenerational living has been successful.
In some instances, for example when parents and grandparents cannot get along and there is great conflict as a result, family mediation should be considered (bringing in someone who does not live in the home, a person who can hear all points of view and help the family members overcome the conflict).
Additionally, the family may wish to see a family counselor. A multigenerational home where there is regular conflict results in a tense and stressful environment for all family members, and will in particular negatively affect the children in the home; on the other hand, a healthy multigenerational home will result in happy, satisfied adults and produce healthy, well-adjusted children.