At least 620,000 more grown-up children are now living with their parents than a decade ago, according to census figures. With soaring rents and cost of living, the Office for National Statistics reveals that you will find at least one adult child in one in four families.
For parents, having your adult children back home can result in trying to navigate a challenging new dynamic — especially if the grandparents are living in the same house. From effectively factoring in family needs and healthy boundaries to the value of conflict resolution skills, living in a multigenerational household doesn’t have to be difficult.
Facilitating functionality through healthy boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is imperative when ensuring harmony throughout the house. Rules regarding shared bathrooms, laundry machines, and the use of shared spaces (such as screen time limits on a shared TV) are all examples of where boundaries may be introduced to prevent challenges and conflict.
One challenge that many parents may face when allowing their adult children to move back home is a lack of helping out, whether they’re not cleaning up after themselves, or simply not pitching in alongside parents and grandparents with the household chores. Setting boundaries, however, can help your adult children realise that doing their part is a necessity, even in a large family. “It’s important for children, regardless of their age, to be independent and take responsibility for their own lives,” says Sue Atkins, who offers parenting workshops and coaching through her website.
Compromising can play a major role in maintaining a healthy household across generations. If your adult child has a job, for example, asking them to pay a reasonable amount in rent isn’t an outlandish request — neither is asking them to take over a few household tasks, such as tidying up after dinner, taking out the garbage, or cleaning the bathroom (if their schedule allows for it). Not only will this ensure that your child doesn’t treat your home like a hotel, but it will pave the way for mutual respect and understanding within the household, all the while creating a teamwork-positive environment. And, if and when they decide to move out, such boundaries will help prepare them for living on their own.
Factoring in family needs
According to research conducted in the UK, problems appear when people feel like they have no privacy, personal space, or freedom. At the conclusion of the research, it was suggested that how content we feel in a multigenerational household depends on two factors: the involvement of those in the living arrangement, as well as privacy/individual freedom.
Factoring in the needs for every family member is crucial to making intergenerational living work. This includes ensuring that everyone has their own space and privacy. While this involves physical space (such an at-home office for those who work from home to separate bedrooms and bathrooms as needed), it also encompasses schedules, too. For example, adult children may wish to spend time with their friends, go on dates, or spend uninterrupted time working from home.
One way to ensure that you’re factoring everyone’s needs in is by asking each family member to update and maintain a shared calendar. Work schedules, nights out, appointments, and events are just a few everyday aspects of life that can be condensed into a comprehensive calendar for everyone to see, thus cutting out any guesswork when it comes to knowing who is busy at any given time. To make things even easier to keep track of, assigning each family member a designated color can create simple and visual separation between everyone’s plans.
Creating an age-inclusive environment
Living in a multigenerational household is bound to bring to light different opinions, thoughts, and ways of living under one roof. When conflict arises, it can lead to family members feeling stressed. It’s important to note that stress can result in a variety of signs and symptoms, from feeling worried, angry or irritable, overwhelmed, or even resulting in physical symptoms like stress headaches.
Not only is stress unhealthy, but it can breed conflict and negativity among family members. However, creating a space in which embraces the different thoughts, ideas, and ways of life can create a positive and loving environment at home. For instance, if a grandparent insists that the kitchen sink be free of dishes before bed, delegating the task to a different family member each week can present a solution that embraces and respects the grandparent’s wishes.
Creating age-inclusive spaces can further ensure that everyone is included at home. Drawing inspiration from age-inclusive communities is just one idea that can help create a similar dynamic within a multigenerational household. For example, while rural communities may create community spaces that everyone can enjoy (such as a green space like a park or public services such as a local library), urban communities focus on creating accessible and safe communities when it comes to the streets.
Similar to an age-inclusive community, creating a shared living space within your home can work to ensure that everyone is included — for instance, creating a living room that caters to everyone with board games and activities to do together can create an inclusive environment. On the other hand, implementing accessibility throughout the home may also be needed, whether it’s child locks on cabinets or a specialised tap attachment for the kitchen sink for older adults with arthritis.
Implementing regular family meals or family game/movie nights can further work to cultivate an age-inclusive household, effectively allowing everyone to stay connected and share about their day.
Navigating conflict resolution
Living in a multigenerational household can be a fantastic living arrangement in which everyone supports one another and pitches in to take care of things. Even in the best situations, however, challenges are bound to arise — especially when the living arrangement is new. Whether it’s a miscommunication regarding schedules, an argument over whose turn it is to wash the dishes or clean out the shared car. Chloe Kerfoot, who opted to continue living in her family home after leaving college in 2020 while completing an apprenticeship, highlights the ups and downs of living at home. “I have a great relationship with my family; I’m loved, cared for and have their full support,” she said.
However, the living arrangement isn’t without its challenges. “You obviously get a little bit of strain, when [I’m asked] ‘What time are you coming home?’ You do lose that little bit of freedom — I’ve got to let them know to leave bolt off the door if I’m out. But I’ve got it really good — I know people go to uni to get away from home.”
The Harley Therapy Mental Health Blog suggests various ways in which everyone can live in peace in a multigenerational household. In addition to clear boundaries and balancing companionship and privacy, it’s noted that communication plays a major role. Communication is noted to be a crucial element, as the free communication of situations and problems allows for the elimination of possible stress factors, with mutual respect and empathy towards one another noted to play key roles.
One way to productively navigate conflict through communication is to get everyone together to discuss the matter. By laying out any complaints or concerns in a family meeting, issues can be addressed right away rather than festering into negativity. From there, compromises can be made to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.
Living in a multigenerational household as a blended family can feel nearly impossible at times, especially when the situation is new. However, by proactively setting healthy boundaries, ensuring that everyone’s needs are met, and effectively navigating conflict resolution, families can live in harmony by creating an environment that is supportive and caring of one another.
GUEST PUBLICATION BY: Alicia Gordon