Sandwiched Boomers

Shared housing in a tough economy: 6 guidelines to make it work

With the shortage of jobs for new college graduates and the financial pinch felt by aging parents as their retirement incomes dwindle, we're seeing multi-generational households make a comeback among Boomers in the Sandwich Generation. Don't be too disappointed if you were looking forward to the empty nest. More family members sharing household responsibilities, financial expenses and emotional support means less stress for all--that is, as long as clear guidelines are set and upheld.

Here are six tips for sharing daily life with extended family:

  1. Have a family meeting to set guidelines before you move in together.

    Be frank and honest about your needs. You'll each be giving up some autonomy and control so you can expect to have situations where push comes to shove. Present your positions for the best and worst case scenarios. Then decide how you want to compromise so that everyone gets some of what they want. Put any absolute deal breakers out on the table so they can be discussed in detail.

  2. Set boundaries so that everyone's privacy is respected.
    Living together with roommates in a college dorm is one thing but sharing space with adult family members can get awkward. Identify signals to use when one of you wants to be alone. The last time you all lived together, the circumstances were quite different. Old issues around power or dependency can resurface in this close environment, particularly when there may be a difference of opinion about how to handle issues with children/grandchildren.
  3. Work out a schedule for shared responsibilities, chores and finances.
    Gain consensus about making the division of labor equitable. When children/grandchildren are part of the mix, arrive at a clear timetable with regard to babysitting so that no one feels exploited. The multi-generational experience can foster a closer relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, with the middle generation being able to step away from some care-giving tasks.
  4. Respect the needs of everyone involved.
    When each person feels heard, it takes away some of the frustration stemming from the lack of control. You can be supportive to one another just by listening even if you don't agree with the reason for the complaint. Use the techniques of active listening and sending I-messages.
  5. Think about the problems that can arise and make a Plan B.
    Just because you all are having some difficulty with the new living arrangements doesn't mean you have to discard the entire idea. Continue to schedule family meetings to discuss the issues and conflicts. Lack of privacy, intruding on other family members' boundaries and unwanted advice are often sore points.
  6. Be flexible and learn to love compromise and cooperation.
    Look at the situation from the perspective of other family members as you work on understanding their positions. You are all in this together and while you may not get exactly what you want, you can work out a solution that is good for everyone.

Have you shared your home with extended family? Share your own tips in the discussion below!


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