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Multigenerational living: Here's what to consider

Last Updated at November 22nd 2021
If your older loved one or parent is struggling at home and is against moving into an aged care home, you may decide that the best option is for them to move in with you and your family.

Key points:

  • Around one in five Australians are living in a multigenerational household

  • Before deciding to have an older parent live with them, carers should be aware of the effect it may have on the rest of the household as well as the extra responsibilities it will entail

  • Every family member should have a say about a "multigenerational household" decision

A multigenerational household.
Multigenerational households can provide companionship, connectedness, and support to everyone in the household. [Source: Shutterstock]

It is not uncommon for older Australians to move in with an adult child and their family when they are unable to continue living on their own. The City Futures Research Centre at the University of New South Wales found that one in five Australians are living in a multigenerational household.

Many families find it provides multiple benefits and curbs a lot of everyday issues, like housing affordability, financial pressures, and support needs.

While there are benefits to a multigenerational household, there will still be a period of adjustment for both you - the carer - and your family in getting used to the tasks involved with being a carer at home, as well as changes to the general running of the household.

Anne Muldowney, Aged Care Policy Adviser from Carers Australia, says it is important not to rush into moving in together and to make sure everybody involved has a say in this decision.

"Weigh up the impact this move might have on you, those you live with, and other members of your family," says Ms Muldowney.

"It's important that you do not feel as though the move has been imposed upon you - rather that everyone involved feels it is the right decision. Be sure that those in your household and extended family support this."

What carers should consider

Taking up the role of carer of a parent living with you is a big decision and it will have an impact on the lives of everyone involved. You may still be working, taking care of children, or paying off large debts. 

Think about how this decision may impact other areas of your life now and into the future.

Things to consider:

  • Existing commitments: 

How flexible are your current commitments? This may include work, study, parenting, other caring responsibilities, and financial commitments like a mortgage.

Additionally, what of your family's commitments? Do you need to take your kids to basketball games or music lessons? 

You may need to chat with your mum or dad about whether they would be up for helping around the house, like babysitting, or if they are able to take the kids to school or any extracurricular activities.

  • The impact on you: 

It can be hard living with the person you also care for. You may struggle to find time for "me". 

If you live with the person, it can begin to feel like you are providing 24 hour care and are "on call" at all hours of the day and night. How do you intend to manage this or provide yourself "me" time?

You need to ensure that your siblings aren't expecting you to provide all the care just because your mum or dad has moved in with you.

  • Impact on the whole household: 

Will your family be impacted by this family member moving in? Will your children need to share a bedroom to make space for your older loved one? 

If you are moving an older parent in, don't just consider their bedroom as "having enough room". Make sure to also think about living spaces, like an extra living room or rumpus room, or if they have to share these spaces with the kids.

And what about caring, do your children or partner need to help as well? It's important to discuss this decision with your partner and children around how this will work and how they will feel having grandpa or grandma around all the time.

You should also think about the general running of the house. Will everyone be involved at dinner time or does someone have a specific time they want to watch TV? 

A roster of important activities people want to keep may help in making sure everyone's time is being respected in the household.

  • House modifications: 

If you are thinking about having your parent live with you because you are concerned about their safety living alone, you should consider whether your own house is safe and appropriate for your older family member.

What house modifications will they need? For instance, entry ramps and grab rails, a chair lift, household safety devices, toileting aids, or bathroom modifications.

  • Quality time together and apart:

Simple things like preparing and eating food together, taking turns to choose a movie to watch, and going on walks together can be great for bonding. 

At the same time, every member of the household needs to recognise when to respect others' private time and family time.

  • Multigenerational issues

Having multiple generations under one roof can cause tension or strain on family relationships.

If the decision to have an older loved one move in was a choice by everyone, then usually these arrangements work really well. However, if someone didn't get a say in the move, then they may feel burdened or upset.

Two of the biggest complaints of multigenerational households that the UNSW study found was noise and a lack of privacy.

"Multiple generations living together in the one house can be a challenge. Make sure that the benefits of the move outweigh the challenges and that your commitment is shared," says Ms Muldowney.

"That way, your older family member and the rest of your family can all feel positive about the plan."

  • Finances:

Even if you are living with your older loved one, it's important to keep your finances separate. You should organise how the accommodation and living expenses will be shared before anyone moves in or whether your older parent will be paying anything at all.

Sometimes an older person may decide to leave their primary carer with more of an inheritance in their Will once they pass. If that's the case, everyone in the family, including the extended family, should be aware of the parents' decision to make this change to their Will to avoid issues later on.

Advice from other carers

Carers Australia has gathered insights from carers who have had an older family member or parent move in with them, who provided their pearls of wisdom about living with an older loved one:

  • Talk openly with your older family member about their wishes

  • Think about what the decision may mean over time and check that you are ready for the commitment

  • Consider the legal and financial implications of the move and seek professional advice

  • Share the decision so that everyone is willing to 'give it a go'

  • Be aware that your parent/s may lose some privacy and independence if they live with you and may do less for themselves

  • Organise aids, equipment or home modifications that may help your parent

  • Put in place home care or support services and don't expect to do it all yourself

  • Have regular time away with your family and make sure to fit in personal breaks

Ms Muldowney says, "While caring for your older family member in a shared home will present its challenges, people who have chosen to do this often say that they developed a much closer relationship with their older family member as a result. The key is to find a balance between caring and other parts of your life."

If you require extra information or assistance in your caring duties, visit the Carer Gateway website or call 1800 422 737 to find out what options are available to you.

Have you moved an older loved one in to live with you? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Things to consider before your older loved one moves in with you
How to have “the home care talk” with your parents
Benefits of short term respite care

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