For many families in the northern hemisphere, multigenerational living is a completely normal way of life. This is cultural in some respects – coming from centuries of instilled family values around taking care of women, children and the elderly. In modern day Australia however, it seems many of us are trying to work out how to kick the kids out, whether we should move grandma to a home or not and how we can convince dad not to let uncle John move into the granny flat.
Caring for elderly parents, staying at home as adults, and living with kids of all ages and needs can be a fascinating mixture of terrible and wonderful. Because it’s such a natural part of other cultures and values systems it works more seamlessly – obligations and responsibilities are passed on willingly and accepted without argument. In modern day Australia however, it is not as common, though there are plenty of reasons why it should be.
Strengthening family bonds and values
There is no better way to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of someone than through spending lots of incidental time with them. Family lunches throughout the year, phone calls and social media, have nothing on chipping in at home and just being together in everyday situations. Helping a sick relative in the middle of the night, cooking and sharing meals together and being part of the finances or logistics involved with shared living, all create deep and lasting connections. Not to mention the benefits of sharing the minutiae of life with family, who will expect you to play a certain role, but also love you truly and less conditionally than non-relatives do, so can help you navigate the rough parts of life as needed.
There is a vast volume of essential life information we use repeatedly throughout our lives that is rarely taught to us in practical ways at school; how to change a tap washer, how to clean the bath, how to plait hair, how to wash clothes properly, what our ancestors did in the wars, how to make grandma’s roast lamb, how to grieve the death of pets, how to plant a vegie patch and so on – all of which in some form or another we are taught by the various members of our family, equipped with the relevant knowledge. When you think about this scenario, the current reality of elderly grandparents fighting devastating loneliness, new parents struggling to juggle everything on their own, and kids missing out on the priceless wisdom of their elders – seems like utter madness.
Sharing the burden
‘Life is hard and then you die’, or say the saying goes. Of course, there are countless wonderful things that happen too but modern-day life has become so busy and complex that anything we can do to help and support each other should be jumped at! From everyday logistics such as paying bills and washing dishes, to big life decisions like choosing health care for a chronic disease or deciding to buy an investment property – a burden shared is a burden halved. There’s no way a random housemate will voluntarily choose to fold your clothes and leave them on your bed, any more than you would pay their car registration because you know they are short that month. Families have an instinctive drive to take care of each other and this can be particularly useful in times of need. Every life stage has its own challenges that direct our attention elsewhere – from university study to recovering from debt, caring for a newborn or undergoing chemotherapy. Living in a family environment during these times really brings home the meaning of the saying ‘it takes a village’ – because it really does.
Financial strength and security
Share house living can be expensive, living alone even more so. But sharing with family has a number of financial perks that can rarely be found in other living situations. Not only can day-to-day expenses like food and bills be shared, but assets like the family home can be collectively cared for both physically, logistically and financially by all of those who have an interest in it, for example, reducing maintenance costs and giving everyone in the home a job they are responsible for. In addition, it reduces the financial pressure on each individual, allowing them to better utilise their money not currently being spent on the costs of living, to strengthen their financial future.
This is particularly relevant for young adults, newlyweds, new parents, empty nesters and divorced or widowed family members or those seeking refuge after a tragedy like a house fire or an accident or injury. All of whom can use the opportunity of a supportive and lower cost environment to get them to the next stage of their life. Where it might be expected that everyone shares costs equally in a share house, in a shared mutigenerational home, costs will be distributed in different ways. The ultimate priority of the whole family is that everyone is taken care of; those in need will be buffered by those in a better position by them, knowing that one day it might be their turn and everyone reaps what they sow. Younger family members saving for a house deposit may only pay board, while those in transit may provide labour such as shopping and cooking, in exchange for a few months respite at home. Elderly parents may be paying a share of the rent, or maybe they own the family home outright and are determined that it continues to be just that.
Whatever the scenario, it is of course not always the case that families can exist under many of the parameters mentioned above. But let’s face it, if you don’t fit into any of these scenarios, it’s likely you wouldn’t want to live with your family, anyway right? If you can relate yourself and your family to multigenerational living, then embrace it if the opportunity is yours – on behalf of all of us who may be unable to.