Multi-Generational Living: How to Live with Family and Not Fight

Almost 60 million people live in a multigenerational home, which means there's bound to be conflict. Here’s how to smooth out the most common issues.

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Living side by side with your grown child can test even the calmest of souls, but it’s a situation that’s gaining in popularity—and necessity. Whether it’s due to divorce, the recent recession, or a greater emphasis placed on togetherness, today’s American homes are more multigenerational than ever. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 60.6 million people live in a multigenerational home, up from 28 million in 1980. “Money is probably the biggest reason for these situations, but they’re also the result of the “sandwich generation’s” culture—people in their mid 30s and 40s who are raising kids with a parent living in the same home,” says April Masini, a relationship expert, author and founder of

To make it work, it’s important to be upfront right from the start because temperatures tend to run high in close quarters. “Put what you decide in writing and refer to this document as issues arise,” suggests Christina Steinorth-Powell, a psychotherapist in Dallas and author of Cue Cards For Life. Need help getting your list started? Here are 5 of the most common hot-button issues and smart ways keep the peace:

Issue #1: It’s the money, honey
Gas, electric, cable, phone—who pays for what can be a bit sticky.  
Make it work!
There’s not one right way to split the bills, but the most common approach is probably ‘rough justice’. “Whoever appears able to pay certain expenses does so while others contribute as best they can,” explains Masini. Dividing bills makes sense if everyone has an income, or the overage could be charged to the member who joins the household. But helping to pay doesn’t always mean cash. A grandparent may have more time to wait for a repairman or care for a child home sick from school, just two ways that time is a valuable asset in lieu of money.

Issue #2: The chore war
Meals, yard work, and laundry that never seems to end.
Make it work!
Whether you’re an ace in the kitchen or have the greenest thumb around, by the time you’re in a multigenerational home, you probably know your strengths. But an enthusiastic ‘chef’ may whip up meals that few can stomach, so taking turns is a good solution. “Making dinner isn’t open-heart surgery—it’s not vital that the best cook is always on duty. It’s more important to have a happy home, where everyone gets a chance to try what they like,” points out Masini.

Issue #3: Quiet!!
Everyone needs some peace now and then, but the din in multi-gen homes can be deafening.
Make it work!
Let common sense be your guide when it comes to TV, computers and music. “Get together and come up with a list of household rules regarding acceptable noise levels and a schedule of quiet times,” suggests Steinorth-Powell. And for those who want to stay up later and still listen to loud music or a loud television, the fix is rather simple: headphones. “They’ve come a long way in terms of quality and are the perfect solution here.

Issue #4: A clean sweep
Clothes all over, dishes in the sink, and an overflowing garbage pail…
Make it work!
Some "clean" issues are a matter of safety—food needs refrigerating before it spoils and toys must be cleared to prevent falls—but others are a matter of esthetics (clutter can seem horrible to some, an affront to a properly kept home). Determine which camps your multi-gen family is in and then discuss ways to satisfy all parties. One idea is to designate a "clean zone" in the main living area. Kids can be tasked with hanging up coats and storing backpacks in their rooms; dishes and garbage duty could rotate weekly so one person isn’t always stuck with sticky plates and rank bags.

Issue #5: Manners matter
Common courtesy for one person may not even register for another.
Make it work!
“Believe it or not, many people aren’t used to knocking on the door and waiting for a response before entering,” says Masini. And then there’s the issue of privacy during phone calls or bringing up sore subjects (a recent divorce, a child’s behavior). Talk about possible situations so you can clarify expectations and air feelings. And know that solving all the issues definitely takes time. “It could be 6 months to a year before a multigenerational home is settled in—it doesn't happen overnight,” reminds Masini.


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according to your article are we saying we need to set rules and regulations for all the persons living in multigeneration households before we move in on 2014-06-13 13:22:24

This is a great article that I think could be helpful to many people in multigenerational households. But some of the issues are more complcated, I think. For example, the "lady of the house" might not want to have to share her kitchen in the way suggested. Or it may be, say, a vegetarian household and the new member (a grandparent or an adult son or daughter who has come home to live) loves meat. Or maybe the owners won't accept things like waiting for packages as a substitute for contributing financially.

The article also leaves out one important area - that of childcare. Sometimes, the homeowners - or the new members of the household - find themselves doing more childcare than they expected. Or they would like to do more but the children's parents resist.

These kinds of issues, by the way, are often discussed , as well, in the Community area of this website. To find it just click on Community at the very top or bottom of this page or key in at the top of your screen. More specifically, if your adult son or daughter has come home to live, you might want to talk about the pluses and minuses of that situation in the forum called Empty Nest No Longer. Same if they've brought a spouse/significant other and/or children with them.

And as for the childcare issues - If you find yourself doing a lot of the childcare or if you're raising your grandchildren on your own, I invite you to check out the group called Grandparents Caring for Grandkids. Same if you're the regular caregiver for your grandchildren, otherwise or a babysitter of choice. Or if you're an aunt, uncle, great-grandparent or other relative in that situation.

rosered135 on 2014-06-10 00:52:55

What value do you place on the expected duration of a multi-generational home? It just seems to me that long vs short durations require substantially different planning.

pemded on 2014-06-04 11:05:27

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