In the wake of “The Great Recession” many stories were written about 20 and 30-somethings being forced back under their parents’ roofs by financial hardship. What’s been less reported on, until lately, was the quiet trend of multi-generational living with a purpose.
The Pew Foundation studied recent census data and found that although the “sharp increase” in so-called “Boomerang Kids” (those 20 and 30-somethings) has leveled off since 2009 when the recession “officially ended,” a steady trend has continued in young adults either not moving from their family homes as early, if at all, or marrying and raising families with their parents’ involvement in their child care.
The Pew study cited a variety of factors they felt contributed to the trend, including young adults’ decisions to marry later in life and have children later as well, the cost and safety of hired child care v. grandparent care, and the continued need for elder care as those grandparents age. All of these issues and more, including financial constraints, have led some to declare that the idea of the nuclear family is passé.
"What's happening right now is that the 50-year nuclear family experiment is ending," Together Again author John Graham shared recently with the Huffington Post. “We're not designed to live that way. We're designed to thrive in extended family units.”
It does seem that the post-WWII, baby boom, suburban dream has given way to a bit of a throwback to an earlier time, but for fully modern reasons and in a much different way than it was in say, 1930. Back then, a young man might marry and move his young bride into his parents’ home while they saved in the hope of one day owning their own, or lived with the parents with the understanding that the house would pass to the younger couple when the parents were deceased. This arrangement pre-supposed that the parents were in charge—it was their home, after all—and the younger generation was to do their part and pitch in in whatever way Mom and Pop saw fit.
One of the biggest differences in today’s multi-generational family unit is that power structure. The kids may be moving back home, or moving a spouse and/or child in, but it’s no longer the parents’ way or the highway. Many of the younger generation are working, saving, and contributing financially to the household. Sometimes, the parents’ pensions have devalued or gone up in smoke thanks to the financial crisis, or their home value sunk to an unrecoverable place, and they need the financial stability their children’s contributions bring.
For some parents, it‘s a matter of moving into a multi-generational scenario with their children, where they are the new resident. According to a 2010 study, home builders identified the trend and started building mother-in-law apartments, extra bedroom and bath combinations, and other new configurations into their new construction portfolios. 79 year-old Lois told the Huffington Post, “After all the stress of being laid off and losing my house, it was very comforting to be with my family.”
Others, like the authors of Together Again, advise that the financial contribution and workload distribution be worked out beforehand. If a parent or adult child isn’t in a position to contribute financially, they can pitch in around the house in other ways. One of those ways, which seems to be the biggest benefit for parents, children, and grandchildren alike, is involving the grandparents in child care.
The Pew study found that “some 7 million grandparents” are now living with a grandchild. Of those, about 39% are involved in some form of childcare, and some are considered the primary caregiver for their grandchild or grandchildren. The same set of factors that Pew found keeping more parents deciding one should stay at home in a two-parent household are those showing up in the multi-generational household, too. However, in only 8% of the multi-generational cases Pew has studied today are both parents and at least one grandparent in the home.
There are quite a few benefits to be found in the multi-generational approach to family living, past the financial. Parents can trust that their children are in the good hands of their own parents—and it must be working—especially for those with very young children. The majority of the grandparents in the Pew study were primary caregivers for their very young grandchildren (under age 6) for more than 3 years.
As Cathy Tankana recounted to the Huffington Post, one of her two granddaughters had to be hospitalized and her son and daughter-in-law were panicked about getting the younger one from school. Grandma took care of it, creating a special moment for her and her granddaughter. "When I got there, I explained to Skylar that her sister was in the hospital, but she was going to be fine, and that today it was going to be 'just you and me.’”
Cultivating a multi-generational, multi-layered approach to child-rearing may be a thing of the past, but it is making a fast and contemporary comeback in the 2010s.