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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Making the Multi-Generational Household Work


Performing the mitzvah of caring for an elderly parent personally is laudable, but don’t try to be a hero. If you are not physically capable of caring for your parent properly, you should not be ashamed to bring in outside help in the form of a home attendant or to ask the government or other family members to help pay for it.

Working out the costs

It is also important to recognize that additional living costs will be involved, and to determine in advance who will be responsible for paying for them. Contrary to the cliche, it is not true that two can live as cheaply as one. Another person living in the household will inevitably increase overall food costs, and it is also fair to consider asking that person to contribute something to cover such regular overhead items as utility bills. Reaching a mutually agreeable financial arrangement from the outset will eliminate a potential source of friction in the future, and help both sides accept the new living arrangement as permanently viable.

There are also psychological considerations in making such an arrangement. It is important to help the newly arrived member of the multi-generational household to accept the change and truly feel at home. To accomplish this, invite them to bring as many as possible of their favorite household items when they move in. These include furniture pieces, framed photographs for display, favorite books, and even their silverware and dishes.

Every needs their own space

It is also important to make sure that each person in the multi-generational household can maintain their sense of privacy. Simply put, everyone needs their own space. For example, everyone must understand that grandma’s room cannot be entered without her permission. And if any person wants to be alone, for any reason, at any time, it is important that the new living arrangements make that possible. This may mean providing family members with their own personal TV, music player, laptop computer, or iPad, which can provide all of those functions.

To keep the personal interrelationships fresh and healthy, it is also a good idea to arrange for members of an extended household to take separate vacations on a regular basis. For example, if your adult children have moved back in with you, you can arrange for them to spend one Shabbos each month out of the house, or perhaps you and your spouse will make arrangements to stay at a different family member’s house every now and then.

These are ways to head off personal frictions before they can become a real problem.

Sacrifices and rewards

You also have to be prepared to accept some personal sacrifices, inconveniences and compromises in order to make the new arrangement to work. Anyone inviting their grandchildren to live with them had better put the fine china away, and take all the breakable chachkas off the living room tables, permanently. Relearning how to live with a 5-year-old can be a challenge, especially if you haven’t done it for a few decades.

You will probably have to give up some of the storage space in your closets, and learn to live with the added mess and clutter that inevitably comes from living with another person, especially a younger one. It may be simpler all around to invest in using disposable plates and utensils during the week instead of dishes and silverware, and to hire a cleaning lady to come in as often as necessary to keep the home presentable.

To be sure, there are personal rewards that come with the arrangement as well. There is the convenience of live-in babysitters and someone always being available to help a child with homework. And there is the boon of being able to look forward to getting up every morning to be greeted by your grandchildren.

Most of all, it is important for everyone involved to want to make the new living arrangements succeed, and to be willing to make the necessary adjustments. As anyone who has ever lived in a multi-generational household can tell you, it is always a work in progress.

Yaakov Kornreich currently lives in a multi-generational household with his wife of 41 years, his mother-in-law, and his married daughter’s family, including her husband and two young children, in his home in Brooklyn.

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