Casaubon's Book

When Eric and I first wrote a letter to Eric’s grandparents, asking them to consider living with us, the response was very mixed. Grandma and Grandpa’s generation of friends and family were mostly very pleased and thrilled – given the bad lot of options available to many of them, finding a compatible home with their grandchildren looked pretty good. Most of them had cared for their parents, and so somewhere inside them, this seemed like a normal relationship. Some of my friends were frankly jealous – they’d lost their own grandparents, and wished for something like what we were going to have.

But most people our age and our parents’ age were very discouraging – they warned us that this would be “too much” that we would have no privacy, that the relationship would be too difficult.

In fact, it did have some difficulties – particularly the end of life issues. It wasn’t always easy to balance their needs and ours, and there were issues of privacy and balance to be worked out. At the same time, I look back on the experience as one that was truly wonderful, and both my husband and I feel only a deep regret that it didn’t last longer, that Eric’s grandmother died too young. We missed deeply having them be part of our lives. That it was not always perfect, simple or totally comfortable was simply one of the realities of having human relationships – none are. But it was a good and rich thing.

I was thinking of this recently, in response to a recent Pew Survey, tracking the growing trend of multi-generational families. Since the 1980s, there has been a growing shift towards families living together, with 49 million Americans – 1 in 7 – now living in a multi-generational household with two generations or more of adults.

This is due to a combination of factors. The first is the concentration of wealth among Baby Boomers and older adults, and the tendency towards later marriage. Younger people are living with their parents longer. The recession has dramatically increased this trend. Meanwhile, immigrant populations tend to be more multi-generational and the US. Moreover, the aging of our population means a gradual shift away from single family homes – and some of those shifts involve shifting towards combining households.

It isn’t just 20 and 30 somethings, though that are going home – everyone is seeing this trend accellerate in light of economic issues:

…the trend reversal has also played out among native-born Americans. And for all groups, the move into multi-generational family households has accelerated during the Great Recession that began at the end of 2007. The Pew Research analysis of census data finds that in 20084, 2.6 million more Americans were living in such a household than had been doing so in 2007.

If I have a small claim to fame, it has been for the observation that the shift to a less affluent and less stable future will mean families living together – my semi-famous essay about the apocalypse looking less like Mad Max than “your brother-in-law living on your couch for two years” seems to be about right – and as I wrote in my very first essay on the subject, many years ago, demographics and social trends only lead us in the same direction that economic necessity will.

The Pew survey already has found that Medicare cuts make it more attractive for elders to move in with family – as the Baby Boomer population ages, this will become even more common, I suspect. The truth is that subsidy cuts to assisted living and elder care facilities, devaluation of housing (the asset most people hope to trade for future care) and the economic crisis we are facing in health care costs means that many of us are likely to find ourselves having much poorer choices than we already have (and the ones we have aren’t great) for elder care. Not everyone will live with their aging parents – and for some people, with deep family issues or severe health issues that can’t be handled at home, this isn’t even an option, but for milliions, it will be.

What we’ve established is that when we absolutely have to, we can get over the idea of the nuclear family, let go a little of the idea that we all need huge amounts of personal space (Virginia Woolf’s case for a room of one’s own was anchored in the space realities of early 20th century housing – think 12×12, not the 850 square feet per person that was the average in 2005.), deal with our issues with our parents or kids (assuming they weren’t too horrible.

But what we haven’t gotten around to is the next step – beginning to recogize this arrangement not as a tolerable necessity, but as one that offers deep and real potential benefits. We also have not yet begun to do it *before* it becomes necessary – that is, right now combining households occurs because we can’t pay the mortgage anymore, or because we can’t find a job and have to move in with Mom, or because we can’t afford assisted living and Grandma can’t live on her own. It is not yet occurring before the house goes into foreclosure in most cases. It is not yet occurring while Grandma and Grandpa are young enough to help out. It is not occurring because young couples are saying that maybe having their own home isn’t necessary, maybe it is ok to remain in shared space, with shared resources.

Does that seem crazy and unrealistic? I have often thought that one of the most heartening things that happened in the wake of the election of President Obama was the fact that his mother-in-law moved in with the Obamas to provide stability and security for the kids. This model of voluntary sharing of the extended family was mostly the source of dated, sexist mother in law jokes, but I actually think it was genuinely important – and it reflects the fact that not every culture has always bought into the idea of the nuclear family as a model – African Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans are dramatically more likely to live in multi-generational households – and to express satisfaction about doing so.

But living with your parents is still the subject of jokes. Moving in with your kids is still viewed as “being a burden.” And privacy uber alles in the US – which is a pity. Because just as I’m suspicious of the assumption that we’re too tired to cook (scroll down to my recent post about Barriers to cooking and eating sustainably) because it is so very profitable for corporations to tell us we are too tired, I’m suspicious of the idea that privacy is all. I think that has been enormously profitable as well – it has fueled the housing boom (and look how great that’s been for all of us!), fueled enormous amounts of consumption (nope, you can’t borrow someone else’s vacuum cleaner, you must own your own private one), and fueled whole and vast industries in replacing labor once done in the informal economy and now cast off on the formal economy. In some cases this shift to the formal economy has been an improvement, for some people – for families who had to struggle with severely impaired Alzheimers patients, for example, who now can find facilities where better care can be provided. But in many cases, this represented a loss – economic loss, as resources that were once passed down were sold to pay for care, loss of time as we worked longer hours to make sure everyone had their own house or apartment, social isolation and loneliness, the externalization of other work into the corporate economy…and so on.

Just as we tend to assume that new technologies have always been beneficial, we tend to assume that this progression away from one another is both natural and desirable – the story we tell ourselves is that for most of our history we had no choice but to care for our own elders and live in close proximity, now we finally have the chance not to. But I don’t think that’s the whole story – I think in general it is wise to look at what we take as natural and logical in our society and look for those who profit – and the enormous sums involved in telling us that we don’t want to share housing offer a visible incentive, at best, for encouraging us to believe that natural instinct isn’t what’s being gratified here.

We are finally recognizing that such family models are viable. What we need to see is that they are desirable in many cases – and that they can be chosen in the absence of circumstances that force us into these arrangements – that rather than losing the house, maybe it would be better to have your sister and her kids move in and pay some rent before the issue comes in. That building an apartment downstairs for Mom and Dad might make more sense for everyone than having them live far away and waiting for the inevitable crisis. That families straitened and strained by burdens and resources might do better to combine before it is necessary, to share work, wealth, housing, time, company. Some years ago, in an essay on husbanding economic resources I wrote about the ways that extended family models operate to retain resources within the family. In Depletion and Abundance I wrote about ways in which this mirrors the peasant economy, in which often little wealth is brought in, but in which little also proceeds out. It is this, in the end, that allows families to live functionally on that little.

I know, not everyone can do this – some people have horrible families, some families can’t agree, some combinations will not work, some households lack resources. But the very fact that it is happening suggests the range of possibilities. The very fact that there are so many people out seeking “community” in a host of ways suggests to me that the cultural assumption that your community cannot begin in your family is wrong – but it will take a long set of shifting assumptions to re-entwine ourselves in one another’s lives. Still, it seems that work is beginning.

But I get emails all the time from people who write that they’d love to have their parents or grown kids come back and live with them, but that they won’t consider it. It is possible, of course, that these are families with deep structural failures that one party simply doesn’t see. But my suspicion is that not all of them are – in fact, I think it is often the case that parents and children, siblings and grandparents are simply talking past each other because we are so caught up in the assumption that sharing homes represents a failure, is something one does only in a crisis.

The other day Eric and I were joking about what would happen if we suddenly had millions of dollars, and Eric’s first comment was that we’d still need to have housemates or live in closer proximity than we have for the last few years (it has taken us a while since Grandma and Grandpa’s death to get around to finding housemates). It was interesting to me that the first thing he thought of was that the traditional assumptions of wealth involved less proximity and more distance – and that both of us instinctively recoil at that idea.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 darwinsdog
    April 8, 2010

    If my son will marry his girlfriend & have kids, I will set up a teepee down closer to the river & give them my property, with the stipulation that I can come up to the house now & then to take showers & wash clothes.

  2. #2 becca
    April 8, 2010

    With all due respect, you may be caught in a bit of an echo chamber when you think about what people want. I’m quite sure you have an accurate idea of what you, and people like you, want. However both the post about cooking and this one reminded me vividly of the time I spent in a 14 person vegetarian eco-friendly co-op. It was wonderful in a lot of respects- oh, but the drama! People are exhausting. They are complicated and messy. Cooking for 14 people, from whole ingredients (I remember one time making *pasta* from scratch because we were out) is exhausting.
    There’s a reason I choose to live alone and eat Trader Joes instant curries after that.
    I don’t fear going back to living somewhat like that, if the economy devolves in the way you expect. Life is wonderful and rich that way. But I don’t *relish* it either, not truly. Life is still wonderful, and more peaceful now.
    After my child was born last August, my parents came to stay with me. I was *angry* that my father decided it was a good idea to stay in a hotel a half hour away. I desperately wanted my Mom around (apparently not uncommon for pregnant women, particularly first timers). At my request, she came to stay with me to help out with the little one for about a month. I loved having her and I hated it. I have a one bedroom apartment and it was horribly cramped- psychologically and physically. I appreciate immensely that she was able to help, and I felt horrible for not enjoying having her, but it was too much for me.

    So anyway, what I’m getting at is that your stance in some of these posts seems to be something like “people say they don’t like X, but with where we’re headed, we may have no choice, and X really isn’t so bad! See how I live!”… some of us really don’t like X. We’ve tried it. We can live with it. We respect and understand why you *would* relish it. But we’re really not fans.

  3. #3 Sharon Astyk
    April 8, 2010

    Becca, you know it always surprises me when I fill a post with caveats “some people can’t…some people won’t…” that I then get responses saying “oh, but you don’t realize that some people can’t and won’t…” – but I guess it shouldn’t ;-).

    Of course some people don’t like other people that much, or want to cook. Some people feel nearly every way. What I said is that I think we should be suspicious of how naturalized the assumption is that everyone does and should feel that way.

    I would also very gently observe that one’s experience right after having a baby with one’s parents in a one bedroom apartment or in a hippie co-op isn’t exactly like living in most extended family situations, assuming everyone’s being a grownup and has as space of their own and some clearly defined roles. This is not to say that you will like it – you may well not. But living together and having someone come stay with you is somewhat different, especially in extremely stressful periods like new parenthood.

  4. #4 Diane
    April 8, 2010

    Architecture and design aren’t often mentioned in discussions about combining households but I think they could be critical factors. A small room of one’s own might, in fact, be preferable to large open-plan spaces. It doesn’t even have to be a bedroom. Older houses had small, specialized spaces like pantries and sculleries, sewing rooms and offices. They were often tiny but might have offered a bit of quiet and privacy when needed as well as confining messes. The combined bathing/toilet room also causes problems in crowded households. For a few extra square feet they could be separated and the bather could indulge as long as s/he liked without denying access to the toilet. As a member of a two generation household with one bathroom I speak from experience. Negotiating this aspect of life requires careful planning and communication.

    There are probably other design solutions that would make extended family life more enjoyable. I’d like to hear if anyone else has ideas about this.

  5. #5 Christina
    April 8, 2010

    My family is on exactly this path. Neither our family of five (four to forty) nor my parents (early sixties) are needing to live together yet, but we’ve been inspired to a co-living strategy and have been working toward that goal. We live 1000 miles apart right now and in very different communities. We leave in a few days to explore another potential location, and have a target of August 2011 to be settled together somewhere…

  6. #6 Emily
    April 8, 2010

    This would be very, very hard for me, I think. So much of what I love about my current life revolves around being so in tune with the one person I live with. And so much of my relationship with my parents and in-laws revolves around not having to hammer out details of faith, food, and politics. I love them dearly, but there’s lots about their day-to-day living that just drives me nuts.

    If I had to share households, and I had the choice, I think I’d pick non-relatives. It would seem easier to negotiate how the household would work without the expectations and old habits that go along with parent/child relationships.

  7. #7 Tara
    April 8, 2010

    I think Emily has hit upon something here. I know that it would have been quite difficult for me to continue living with my parents as a young person just entering adulthood. Indeed it was very difficult for my brother and sister to do it when they both had to move back home at a young age. I think our parents had quite a difficult time letting go of the parental impulse to control the environment. Now that I’m pushing forty, the idea of sharing a home with my parents seems much more palatable, as I’ve had more than enough time to establish myself as an adult in my own right, and they’re used to me making my own decisions. I totally agree that cohousing is a great idea and can be very enjoyable – this is simply a side observation.

  8. #8 Rebecca
    April 8, 2010

    I also would rather live with non-relatives.
    One of my favorite movies is the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. While it is a sci-fi classic, much of the action takes place in a boarding house. I believe I would enjoy that. Having a choice between privacy and being with other people of differing ages (and possibly backgrounds) and also being able to move somewhere else if I wanted to. I wouldn’t even mind sharing a bathroom. But where would I put my fifty boxes of books??

  9. #9 Jadehawk
    April 8, 2010

    I’ve got two perspectives to offer on that.

    For one, my grandmother has apartments in both my aunts’ houses. She used to live with the younger aunt, but absolutely didn’t get along with the aunt’s boyfriend. In any case, there was never a question in our family that this would work out that way, and my own mother also fully expects to live with me in her old age. These are middle-class European families we’re talking about, btw.

    The other perspective is that of the super-poor youth. Basically there’s a network of poor people, at least some of which have a place to live, which usually results in all the other ones couchsurfing in various combinations at various times. basically there’s an entire community that lives a single paycheck away from losing their apartment, and they’ generally expect that when this happens, they will be able to live with someone else. it’s a very supportive sort of community, but sometimes it gets crazy, when you have 4-5 people camping out in your livingroom for weeks :-p

    anyway, the point is that shared living in various combinations is practiced outside the American mainstream, so these sort of things will definitely come back with a vengeance not necessarily just as multi-generational living, but as community living in general.

  10. #10 Cat
    April 8, 2010

    Keep in mind that zoning rules may prohibit you from doing just what you want to do. Some municipalities really mean it when they say “Single Family Home”. That means out can’t have two families living in the same dwelling. And don’t think that some nosy neighbor won’t complain if you do.
    Secondly, if you decide to add on to your home to accomodate other persons, the zoning administrator will have a fit if it even remotely looks like a duplex or a mother-in-law apartment. Also don’t get any great ideas about remodeling the upstairs in the garage or acceory building on your lot. If they are not attached to the dwelling, they cannot be used as living space.
    Been there, done that!

  11. #11 Anna
    April 8, 2010

    When I was a kid, my mother was mostly a stay at home mom while my father worked. We were relatively poor, and neither of my parents had much retirement savings beyond social security. Which means that when they got divorced, my mom ended up with a social security check that was a fraction of my father’s, and definitely not enough to live on. Now that she’s reached her late sixties, she really should be retiring, but she can’t afford it. She also has a hard time keeping up her house, and although we come and fix things every month or so, it’s hard to get away more often than that.

    I’ve pondered various solutions to this problem, and am still pondering. My mother lives an hour and a half away from me and owns her own home in the city, while I own a farm in the country. She’s attached to her friends and city life, while I’m attached to my country life (and lots of privacy — I admit that after growing up sharing a tiny bedroom with two siblings, I can’t stand the thought of sharing my tiny trailer with anyone except my husband.)

    Luckily, I run a small business with lots of tasks that can be done from home. So I hired her very part time — she wouldn’t take cash from me, so I figured this would be a good option. So far, the project has worked out quite well — we get to spend more time together doing something productive, and she has a bit more spending money. I know it’s not the long term solution, but I feel like right now it’s a pretty good one. Not quite co-housing, but it does line up with your notion of keeping money in the family and helping each other out.

  12. #12 S Barringer
    April 8, 2010

    Cat,
    You said, “Keep in mind that zoning rules may prohibit you from doing just what you want to do….”
    Our city is learning very quickly, due to reality, that zoning laws will have to be changed to accommodate the reality
    that people are already jamming into so-called “single family homes”, whether related or not, because they have no choice. It’s that, or live on the streets. The homeless population of unemployed has blown up in their faces. So, our city is realizing that they need to get realistic and adapt to the real needs of their citizens. Many living situations are simply overlooked, especially since the Code Cop head-count has been reduced and they can’t keep track of everything that’s going on, and they really are learning that it’s wise not to. Why punish and make people homeless because of some unrealistic, “McMansion code”?
    I took the city years to reach this point, and they aren’t all the way there yet, but they can see that the population demographics is changing.
    And, many people have told the city officials that “they’re leaving to live someplace where they can afford to and be left alone to live as they want to.” And they are leaving. It’s killing the tax base.

  13. #13 Jadehawk
    April 8, 2010

    Keep in mind that zoning rules may prohibit you from doing just what you want to do. Some municipalities really mean it when they say “Single Family Home”. That means out can’t have two families living in the same dwelling. And don’t think that some nosy neighbor won’t complain if you do.
    Secondly, if you decide to add on to your home to accomodate other persons, the zoning administrator will have a fit if it even remotely looks like a duplex or a mother-in-law apartment. Also don’t get any great ideas about remodeling the upstairs in the garage or acceory building on your lot. If they are not attached to the dwelling, they cannot be used as living space.

    true enough, and this will be a problem as long as this is a minority of people wanting to do this.
    But considering that the vast majority of my community consists of various degrees of squatting, I can’t be bothered to care. who’s gonna complain, the other people in this building, who also have friends living with them? I think not.

    plus, a bit of civil disobedience to change zoning laws mightn’t be a bad idea either, if/when the multi-generational living becomes popular enough again ;-) [/fightmode]

  14. #14 Lora
    April 8, 2010

    Another who would rather live with non-relatives than family. If I had my hayloft renovated into living space like The Spouse has planned, I would probably rent it cheap to the local vet students who need experience working with farm critters–they put up notices in the feed store once in a while, willing to trade farm chores for rent in order to get credit for school.

    Have known a few social workers, one of whom told me that if she were Queen of the World, everyone would normally live in little individual apartments, whether single or married: she had seen way too much domestic violence and children abused by Mom’s boyfriend, sort of thing, to have any faith in the power of family ties.

    Wouldn’t mind being an old lady with some of my friends though. We’d sit around being filthy old baggages together, drinking margaritas and commenting on the pool boy’s butt.

  15. #15 Mitty
    April 8, 2010

    I agree that architecture/design factors and social expectations largely inculcated by advertisers are two powerful forces that affect the way we live on many levels. Witness how our infrastructure has been set up to eliminate trolleys and buses and make biking downright dangerous in tandem with decades of advertising advising us that we’re living the American dream if we have big cars to ride around in all by our lonesomes.
    When my parents started living with us for part of the year, our friends were incredibly hostile to the idea and tried to convince us not to do it. It wasn’t always fun (tho’ often it was), but the saving grace was that we had an extra half bath and a family room in addition to a living room. It actually felt better to have the house fully utilized, and Grandpa had time to do lots of minor repairs and home improvements. When they needed to have more help full-time, they moved into an apartment down the street from us, and we were able to do a lot for them while they kept a feeling of independence. It was more important to them not to feel they were imposing than it was to us.
    I don’t advise everyone to do this, but people without seriously dysfunctional families might want to think about what creative configurations could work for them. If I had had to fly 1000 miles every time my mom needed me, I could not have done it.

  16. #16 Brad K.
    April 8, 2010

    Diane,

    It is funny you mention The combined bathing/toilet room also causes problems in crowded households.

    My vision of Sharon’s “after the change” times, includes a lot less emphasis on appearance (ie, conspicuous consumption is reduced as affluence evaporates). Makeup and hair dressing become weekly or annual functions, instead of daily. Hair grows; in the future we may well let it. Some do – and manage to live a healthy life with people of good character.

    When you consider water conservation, a sponge bath in your bedroom would take care of a lot of the congestion in the shared facilities.

    Our ideals of what is acceptable appearance – and cleanliness – are as subject to change as our cash flow. I personally think we will make better choices about friends and social contacts with less makeup, less toiletry to confuse our natural senses.

  17. #17 Jade
    April 8, 2010

    Given a choice between any of my relatives and Kunstler’s creepy vision, I’d welcome my most dysfunctional kin. Heck, I’d give my brother-in-law thrice removed the bedroom and I’d take the couch.

    (Unless, I suppose, I’m somehow distantly related to Kunstler.)

  18. #18 "GrrlScientist"
    April 9, 2010

    having grown up in a horribly abusive home, and then being removed from that home when i was 15, i would never consider such an arrangement — except for with my brother and his family. we recently re-connected after a lifetime apart and the joy i felt (and still feel) was like nothing i’d ever experienced. if i had not just gotten married and then left the country, i would have happily moved in with his wife and kids and contributed in any and every way i could. even though i am happy with my life now, i still sometimes think about the “what if” of moving in with his family and i am convinced that, if that scenario had come to pass, i would have been the winner in every way i could possibly imagine.

  19. #19 Sharon Astyk
    April 9, 2010

    The case for non-relatives can be very compelling – and I think it is a great arrangement in a lot of cases – combining housing at all levels is good. And it is certainly true that many families *should not* live together – either because they’d make each other miserable or for worse reasons. My own take on this is that one of the better reasons to get out there and combine housing with your more appealing friends or relatives is so that you can get someone else to take the really obnoxious ones ;-).

    Sharon

  20. #20 Bill
    April 9, 2010
  21. #21 Carol Scott
    April 9, 2010

    Sharon, this essay was thoughtful and beautifully written. Would you be interested in sharing it with us at Generations United for possible inclusion in one of our publications? We’re a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working to connect children and older adults through programs and policies, and we publish our magazine, Together, several times a year. Please e-mail me at cscott at gu.org if you’re interested, and best wishes to you and your family.
    Carol Scott, Communications Coordinator, Generations United

  22. #22 Christina
    April 9, 2010

    Perhaps the best solution would be to take your best friend’s parents, and they take yours :-)

  23. #23 Emily
    April 9, 2010

    Has anyone written a guide to combining households? Let’s say your family isn’t dysfunctional, but you like your personal space and have grown up believing part of what it means to be an adult is to have your own place and make your own decisions. And that your parents still think of you as “the baby” and you all fall into the old patterns where “what Dad says goes” or “because I’m the mom, that’s why.”

    Now you find that for whatever reason, the only option that makes sense is for y’all to move in together. Sharon has identified the problem, that co-generational living is not the norm for lots of people. So having some advice about how to adapt to that very situation could be very helpful. Tips for parents…tips for children…tips for the move-in-ers…tips for those moving-in…how to handle conflicts…

  24. #24 becca
    April 9, 2010

    I guess my point was “some people won’t…” may be only rarely related to “because they think it’s weird”. I think “because they think it’s great but can’t make it work” is common.

    Of course, it may well be that seemingly minor things could be changed to make it work (more accessible farmers markets and better designed housing strike me as Very Good Things).

    That said, some of us are nutty enough that, despite the absence of anything abusive or evilly-dysfunctional, cohabitating would nearly always involve a lot of stressful work. Although I suppose it’s always possible I will grow out of said nuttiness. Eternally optimistic I am.

    @Christina- now THERE’s a thought. During most of my teenage years, I *did* nearly live with my best friends family. I could definitely deal with them. Though they’ve got their brother in law living on the couch right now; that might be a bit much (given the personality of the brother in law).

    As an aside, the experience with the co-op made me want to cheer for anyone who wants to practice civil disobedience with respect to most single family zoning laws.

  25. #25 Jadehawk
    April 9, 2010

    Perhaps the best solution would be to take your best friend’s parents, and they take yours :-)

    perfect! ;-)

  26. #26 clew
    April 9, 2010

    Oliver Sacks’ _Uncle Tungsten_ is about his childhood in an enormous Edwardian house with an enormous (and often eccentric family). They had two music rooms — each with a piano! — so the jazz and classical musicians didn’t fight.

    And they clearly had a lot of doors and common sensibilities about manners. Architecture and etiquette both count.

  27. #27 Claire
    April 9, 2010

    I’m another one who couldn’t get out of my family of origin’s house fast enough – via college in my case. You couldn’t have paid me enough money to keep me there a minute longer than I had to be there, and I never went back to full-time living at home once I left at 18. Yet now I’d take my parents (or MIL for that matter) in in a moment’s notice. Some of us just take longer to get ourselves unscrewed-up than others do.

    The older of my two brothers, on the other hand, happily lived with our parents all through college and through his first few years in the working world – basically until he got engaged. That’s how different things can be for siblings just a few years apart.

    Since my DH and I don’t have kids of our own, it might well be that later on we’ll offer to share our house with another person or couple. We’ve got a good setup here, lots of edible and medicinal plants, and I hope to find someone who will appreciate and care for it as much as we have after we are gone. Seems the best way to do that is to share the place with someone eager to learn about it and love it as we do. It feels too soon for that now – likely enough we’ll be caring for one or more parents in the near future – but once we are past that stage, then we can consider the possibility of housemate-apprentices.

  28. #28 Annamarie
    April 11, 2010

    Sharon – What a wonderfully written and thoughtful article. I picked it up on the Energy Bulletin site and came here to the original. I agree wholeheartedly that multi-generational families offers a rich and deep human connection.

    Yes, the physical space matters – people need doors and spaces for privacy.

    Sure, some people have truly dysfunctional family members and couldn’t live with them.

    Yes, building codes and zoning laws may need to be changed in some areas. In my area, there is actually funding for creating an in-law apartment in your house!

    I’m fascinated by the strong, negative reactions from some of the commentators.

    Emily – I have written a book on how to find and keep good housemates. This assumes the model of strangers choosing to live together. It’s a nuts and bolts how-to-do-it. It’s with an agent, I hope a publisher buys it soon! Meanwhile I have a blog up on sharing housing. Come and tell me if you find it helpful.

  29. #29 Matriarchy
    April 11, 2010

    About two years ago, I took your Adapting in Place course. I faced this very issue. Aging mother in a big over-stuffed house on a third-acre. I didn’t want to live with her. But, I came to see that maybe there would be a way to make it work, and we set out to do just that. I felt like I was going to be an AIP success story.

    But, life did not cooperate. My mother has OCD and is a hoarder. She had a mini-stroke in June that speeded our project. And she has developed a form of dementia that makes her believe nothing is wrong with her as she loses her short-term memory. She battles us at every step, as she loses her independence and her ability to care for herself. She had to be physically restrained from attacking a metal scrap hauler last week, convinced he was stealing from us. She believes I am lying about her, stealing from her, and turning her grandchildren against her.

    This has been the worse year of our lives. My 17yo has developed IBS as her grandmother confuses her with me, more and more. My artistic 13yo is on medication for depression and was just suspended from school. My relationship with my partner has never been worse. Most of us have insomnia. My children barricade themselves in their rooms, and are rude to my mother; she is childishly rude to them. My brother seems to think that I am just not doing it right. I am too busy to get therapy myself. This is the worse thing we have ever done.

    And, we will lose all of the resources we sought to save. Her house was stuffed and in poor condition. And we cant fix it with her here. She is too hostile for assisted living or adult day care. We are going to be forced to put her in a nursing home. We will lose the house to Medicaid.

    I am NOT blaming it on AIP! No one could have predicted this would go to badly and be so painful. Best laid plans, and all that…

  30. #30 Sharon Astyk
    April 12, 2010

    Matriarchy – I’m so very sorry it has been so very awful. It is so tough when an outside placement is necessary – my grandmother who had post-polio syndrome and was very heavy had to go to a nursing home as well, because she simply couldn’t be physically managed by anyone at home. Sometimes that is the best option. I’m so very sorry that your family has endured so much strain over this.

    Sharon

  31. #31 Sharon Astyk
    April 12, 2010

    When I wrote my original BIL on the couch essay years ago, one of the things I noticed was that a lot of people were more horrified by the idea of living with their relatives than with a Mad Max Style thunderdome ;-). And I genuinely can understand that – my husband is an only child with three parents he is responsible for, my father and my sisters don’t get along at all – so there’s four parents that we could end up responsible for, and not all of them are equally appealing – and having all of them living in my house would be beyond suckage ;-). Remember, some of them used to be married to each other and now aren’t for good reasons…

    But I do think that one of the things you see in places that are less affluent and have fewer fossil resources is that the nuclear family model simply doesn’t work – it requires too many resources. History also suggests that the isolated nuclear family isn’t a normal model. So the question becomes what model is worth looking at. Certainly there is a long history of servant or slave classes integrated into nuclear models, most of which seems undesirable to me. Then there’s extended family or tribal models. I think other more modern things will emerge, functioning as family – but I think there’s an odd tendency to dismiss family in our culture, and an even stronger tendency to dismiss intergeneratioanlism in our culture, so I think it is worth fighting that tendency, even if individual members of any given generation may annoy the crap out of you ;-).

    Sharon

  32. #32 Abie
    May 31, 2010

    We’re living your article right now. A few months ago, my husband and toddler daughter moved in with his brother and sister-in-law. We’re all intelligent, young adults with multiple graduate degrees amongst us and discussed everything at length before committing to this lifestyle. Included in the discussion was researching our state’s definition of “family” for single-family zoning purposes, by the way.

    Without getting into specifics, it wasn’t financially necessary. No one had lost their jobs or whatnot although one of us was affected by the housing crisis and would have been stuck in a less than stellar home for, well… for a long time.

    We have our own spaces in their large house and share the common areas. Our cost of living is amazing now and I love how my daughter is growing up with her Aunt and Uncle and visions of cousins dance in my head.

  33. #33 fix it pro
    June 1, 2010

    Without getting into specifics, it wasn’t financially necessary. No one had lost their jobs or whatnot although one of us was affected by the housing crisis and would have been stuck in a less than stellar home for, well…