Boomers: Tips for Setting Up an Intergenerational Household

For some time now, the term ‘boomerang generation’ has been bandied about to describe young adults moving back into their parents’ homes. But now, we’re also seeing a ‘reverse boomerang,’ where it’s the parents joining the children’s households.

Sometimes these parents are elderly, but more than half of the increase in intergenerational families is from parents who are still under age 65, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Due to a combination of unemployment, rising living costs and debt, we boomers are now joining our kids in being described as a boomerang generation.

Consider Advantages, Disadvantages

Of course, an intergenerational household may have advantages.

Boomer parents are well noted for having close relationships with their children. And having extra adults around to help with expenses, child care, or just to keep each other company, can make life less stressful, more memorable and more fun.

But you don’t have to dig deep to imagine the potential negatives.

Having extra adults around to help with expenses, child care, or just to keep each other company, can make life less stressful, more memorable and more fun.

Having Suzy leave her dirty clothes in the bathroom, or Junior deplete the gas in the car, may be mildly irritating when they are still in high school. But when they move back home, after college or after losing a job, these sorts of problems can quickly mount.

Add to that grandmother’s sensitivity to loud noises and the kids’ tendencies to evoke them and, well, the situation can quickly become overwhelming.

Coordinate a Family Conference

So, where to begin? Before you consider combining households, you need to bring the adult parties together to discuss expectations, boundaries, and rules. This can include housekeeping duties, rent, or contributions towards expenses.

It may even include behavior. For instance, if one party is moving in because of a job loss, maybe no rent is expected. But there will probably be expectations that the unemployed person will look for a job, and, at least, that dirty clothes will find their way to the laundry basket.

Neither party will be happy if there’s too great a compromise on lifestyle, savings or retirement as a result of the other party failing to pull their weight. Nobody wants to feel taken advantage of or misused.

Set the House Rules

Once you’ve decided to green-light the intergenerational living arrangement, you will want to outline each party’s expectations and create house rules covering areas such as:

  • Rent and other expenses. Will the moving-in party pay rent, buy groceries, or make sure the family car has a full gas tank?
  • Housekeeping and repairs. Will housekeeping tasks be shared, or at least, not made any worse? If one party breaks something, will they assume responsibility?
  • Space concerns. Is your home ready for intergenerational needs? Do you need to baby proof? Or make accommodations for someone who might have trouble navigating the stairs?
  • Fitting in and getting along. This may be harder to discuss than the more tangible financial issues. If you are moving in with your adult son, for example, how will your presence affect his new wife? If your son and his family are moving in with you, will they expect live-in babysitting services? Is that what you expect? How will mealtimes and other routines change, or stay the same?
  • Goals and progress. If the new living arrangements are supposed to be temporary, while one party works to find a new job or pay off debt, what goals, timetables and milestones can you put in place? If Junior should be looking for a job, to help pay off $50,000 in student loans, should he be participating in multi-player Internet games until four in the morning?

I have known blended, intergenerational family situations that worked out very well. Young children got the benefit of having grandparents around; adult kids got a chance to get back on their feet; and older folks enjoyed companionship and some help with household bills and duties.

But I have also seen generous people taken advantage of by “boarders” who never put food in the refrigerator, a load of laundry in the wash, nor have never made a meal. In these cases, the host family exceeded its budget and eventually lost its patience — relationships and finances were seriously damaged.

Intergenerational households might very well be a solution to financial problems, health issues or even loneliness. While it can be tough to impose rules on adult children, or on parents, you’ll only benefit by having these discussions and making everything clear in advance.

Guest blogger Marilyn Katz is the founder of the Over 50 Website, which is dedicated to topics that concern today’s baby boomers.