Finding the right space
Despite all the potential perks, multigenerational living isn’t for everyone. "It's important to go in with your eyes wide open," says Butts.
Before families commit to living together, it’s a good idea to test the waters, perhaps by taking an extended vacation or making a temporary move to a rental home that can accommodate everyone.
As Julie and Shane recognized early, the best arrangements give adult children and parents their own living space. Julie’s mother has an apartment with her own kitchen, for example, but other families opt to share a kitchen and have separate space via a walk-out basement or large master suite.
Be frank about finances
In deciding to live together, families are also co-mingling some aspects of their finances. Talking about money upfront is a key step for success. “We always suggest sitting down and talking about your individual expectations,” says Butts.
With some families, the adult children may pay for all of the costs associated with buying a house but ask their parents to pay monthly rent. In other cases, the older generation might pay for a large portion of the down payment or any remodeling costs, while the adult children cover the mortgage payments.
There's no single formula for the best way to divide costs, so find one that works for you. The most important thing is to have the conversation early. It's also important to address how to divvy up other shared costs, such as groceries, maintenance or repairs.
Enjoy your time together — and apart
As with any kind of co-living — be it with roommates, a partner or your parents — communication is essential. This is true not just for tangible topics, such as finances and chores, but in talking about when you’ll spend time together and when you’ll give each other space.
“It’s important to talk about what you envision living together to look like,” explains Butts, who recommends going through a typical day or typical week and talking through such things as caregiving, childcare, meals and social events.
In Julie’s case, there is no expectation that everyone will have dinner together every night, but there is an “open-door policy” when it comes to going back and forth between the main house and the apartment. To help make sure everyone is on the same page, the family shares an online calendar. “This has been so helpful in keeping track of all the logistics that come up, especially with young kids,” Julie says.
While living with a parent can sometimes stir up challenges, couples also need to acknowledge the stress that sometimes comes with living with in-laws. “When it’s your own parent, there is a balance between making sure your spouse is happy with everything,” Julie says. Again, it’s all about having the right space, literally and figuratively.
Looking back, Julie says she can’t imagine not living in such close proximity to her mother. The experience, she says, has been tremendously enriching for all three generations, but there is one benefit that tops the list. “The relationship my mom has with my kids is priceless,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”