Under one roof: when the kids and the grandkids come to stay

With housing less affordable than ever before, there are more Australian families choosing the ‘extended family’ living arrangements, but interestingly the trend isn’t just about how much money can be saved.

In Sydney, at least one in four families live in multigenerational homes while for the rest of Australia that result is one in five. A multigenerational home is where you and your spouse are living with your child/ren, their partners or spouses and/or any grandchildren you might have.

Initially thought that this trend was purely economic, it now appears that’s not all that is going on. While economic reasons are part of the reason why this cohabitation is taking off, other reasons why families are taking the opportunity are cultural and to embrace what old and young can learn from one another.

“I’m of Chinese background, so I grew up with my grandparents,” Chi Lu from Melbourne told the ABC Radio National’s Drawing Room program in April.

Lu says she and her husband returned from a few years overseas and thought “why not, Mum and Dad have a great house”, spending time living with both sets of parents, which proved mutually beneficial when her father-in-law developed late-stage Parkinson’s disease.

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Such an arrangement can allow you to live in a ‘much nicer house’, and other advantages include pooled living costs, on-site child care, assistance with health changes that come with age, healthier eating thanks to more hands in the kitchen, and the passing down of hobbies, interests and skills.

However, there are also downsides that need to be considered, such as privacy, squabbling over money and the family relationships being tarnished when there is a fall out.

How then can you make it work?

The big issue is ensuring you all get along, but another critical consideration to consider if you want multigenerational homes to work is for each member to have their own space and privacy.

Carol and Robert, aged 73 and 74 respectively, share their home with their daughter Danielle, her husband Andrew  (both 36) and their granddaughter Sophie, who is two. Carol says she and Robert have a separate living space in the house to Danielle and Andrew, but they share the kitchen and dining area and eat meals together when work schedules permit.

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The house has two bathrooms and two-and-a-half toilets.

Carol says one of the downsides is that instead of entertaining at home, both sets of partners choose to go out with friends. However, she and Robert look after Sophie if they are available to do so.

Another thing Carol says has helped the success of the living arrangement is to ensure the channels of communication are always left open.

“Although all four adults got on well, we had different attitudes to how the house should be run,” Carol says. “We had a more relaxed attitude to how tidy the house was, which was opposite to how Danielle and Andrew felt about things with Sophie in their lives.”

She says being frank and upfront about any issues they were having ensured relationships remained strong.

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This includes agreeing on the finances.

Determine who is paying the mortgage and if it is to be shared, decide the split. Rates, utilities, home insurance etc. needs to be discussed and a budget should be enforced when it comes to the household finances.

Finally, divide the household chores between each member of the home — shopping, housework, washing up, cooking, gardening… Consider all the activities that go into everyday household maintenance and ensure it’s assigned as evenly as possible.

Do you live with other members of your family? Does the idea of a multigenerational home appeal to you? Share your comments.