Multi-generational living: How families can live peacefully under one roof

Bringing together individuals from different age groups under one roof can be a fulfilling experience, but there are challenges.Picture: August de Richelieu/Pexels

Bringing together individuals from different age groups under one roof can be a fulfilling experience, but there are challenges.Picture: August de Richelieu/Pexels

Published Dec 20, 2023


Rising costs of living, a gloomy economic outlook, and a scarcity of affordable housing have seen multi-generational living emerge as a practical and meaningful solution.

But, while bringing together individuals from different age groups under one roof can be fulfilling, it’s not without its challenges.

“Multi-generational living can be a very smart fiscal move as costs become more efficient when shared, and it also fosters family unity and is a very practical way for generations to help each other out, whether it be providing a home or sharing a rung on the property ladder,” says Yael Geffen, chief executive of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.

“However, putting two or three generations under one roof can be problematic and for multi-generational living to thrive, careful consideration and intentional efforts are needed to ensure the well-being and harmony of all household members.”

The first step, she says, is to take an objective look at your home and assess how well it works for everyone, young and old.

“If your home could be problematic for someone with mobility issues who might have difficulty climbing stairs or getting into a bath, then it might be a better idea to convert an attached garage into a self-contained flat as everything will be accessible and on one level.

“And, if there is a choice of ground floor and first floor bedrooms, allocate the rooms on the lower level to the older generation even if they are still very mobile as they will remain accessible as your family ages. Also, having bedrooms on both floors with the youngsters upstairs, will create a natural separation between generations.”

Once the practicalities have been addressed, Geffen says there are then other very important factors in making multi-generational living work for everyone involved:

1. Open communication channels

Communication is the foundation of any successful household, and in a multi-generational setting, it becomes even more critical. Encourage open and honest communication among all family members and create a space where everyone feels comfortable expressing their needs, concerns, and expectations.

“Regular family meetings can be a valuable forum for discussing shared responsibilities, financial matters, and personal boundaries.:

2. Define shared spaces and personal boundaries

Clearly define shared spaces and personal boundaries within the home. Each generation may have different lifestyles, routines, and preferences, so establishing designated areas for communal activities and personal spaces allows everyone to coexist harmoniously.

Encourage mutual respect for these boundaries to foster a sense of autonomy and privacy for each household member, she says.

3. Financial transparency

“Financial discussions can be sensitive but are crucial for the success of multi-generational living. Establish transparency regarding financial contributions, expenses, and savings goals and clearly outline how costs will be shared, taking into account the varying financial capacities of different generations.”

Transparency helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures that everyone contributes fairly to the household's financial well-being.

4. Shared responsibilities

Distribute household responsibilities equally among all family members. From chores to caregiving responsibilities, sharing the load fosters a sense of teamwork and prevents any one individual from feeling overwhelmed or resentful.

“Rotating responsibilities and establishing a schedule for tasks can help maintain balance and ensure that everyone plays a part in the smooth functioning of the household,” Geffen says.

5. Respect different generational perspectives

Multi-generational living brings together diverse perspectives shaped by different life experiences. Encourage an environment of mutual respect and understanding and embrace the opportunity for intergenerational learning and sharing of wisdom.

You should recognise that each generation has unique strengths and contributions to offer, creating a rich tapestry of experiences within the household.

6. Create intentional shared activities

Foster a sense of togetherness by creating intentional shared activities. Whether it's regular family meals, game nights, or outings, she says shared experiences strengthen familial bonds.

“Be mindful of the varied interests and preferences of different generations, ensuring that activities are inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. These moments of connection contribute to a positive and cohesive family dynamic.”

7. Flexibility and adaptability

Life is dynamic, and circumstances can change so try to cultivate a spirit of flexibility and adaptability within the household and recognise that each family member may face different challenges and stages of life.

Being open to adjustments and embracing change with a positive attitude allows the family to navigate transitions smoothly and support each other through various life events.

8. Provide individual support

Recognise the unique needs of each family member and provide individual support where necessary, Geffen says. Whether it is childcare, eldercare, or emotional support, understanding and addressing the specific needs of each generation contribute to a nurturing and caring environment.

“This approach fosters a sense of security and well-being for all household members.”

9. Encourage independence

While multi-generational living promotes interdependence, it's also essential to encourage individual independence. Support younger family members in pursuing their goals and establishing their independence. Similarly, respect the autonomy and preferences of older family members.

Balancing interdependence with individual freedom contributes to a healthy and harmonious living arrangement, she says.

10. Seek professional guidance

In some cases, seeking professional guidance can be beneficial and family counsellors or therapists experienced in navigating multi-generational dynamics can provide valuable insights and tools for effective communication and conflict resolution.

Geffen states that multi-generational living can be a rewarding and enriching experience when approached with intention, communication, and flexibility.

“Ultimately, it provides a wonderful opportunity for the generations to connect, so embrace the strengths that each family member brings to the table and enjoy a fulfilling journey of shared growth and treasure the time together.”

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