Intergenerational Living

A process not a state!

Ageing populations, rising house prices, longer working hours and escalating childcare and healthcare costs are all factors that might contribute to more families considering an intergenerational living arrangement.

In this short article, I would like to share my story of living in just such an intergenerational household and how the past four years of lived experience has made me view the concept more as a dynamic process than a fixed state.

I live with my wife, our three-year-old daughter and my in-laws in a three-bedroom house in Sydney’s inner west. Two key considerations were crucial in our making the decision to move in together four years ago.

Firstly, there was the coincidental timing of both households’ need for support. At the time my Chinese in-laws had just migrated to Australia and needed time and support to build their social network in a new language and culture. At around the same time, my wife and I were considering have a child, yet both of us were working very long hours trying to build our respective careers. The idea of moving in together to support each other’s needs just felt right at the time.

The second factor was housing affordability. We all really like Sydney’s inner west however neither household could afford to purchase a house in such an expensive real estate market. Combining our finances allowed us to purchase a modest house in a family friendly area that is walking distance to public transport, and has a beautiful local park and childcare centre.

Just as with any other form of household arrangement, apart from the benefits, intergenerational living also comes with challenges that we must continually work through. From my in-law’s perspective some of the areas of frustration include a mismatch in preferred time for family meals; standards of tidiness (theirs is higher); and a constant negotiation around hoarding versus streamlining.

What disturbs my wife the most about living with her parents although in a different arrangement, is that when they argue, she relives unpleasant moments from her childhood. Although household bickering doesn’t really upset me, I do miss those days when I could play my favourite music very loudly or just wanted to be lazy and messy for a weekend. We now have to think twice about the consequences of either of these options...

My daughter appears to love this living arrangement as she can choose from four adults as playmates rather than just two. Grandma is her number one choice for play dough time and my wife is her go-to adult for drawing and storytelling. Grandpa and I are her favourite outdoor play buddies.

We have openly discussed the fact that should circumstances change in the future we always have the option of reverting to separate households. Although so far things are working well for us on balance, one thing we have all learned is that we can’t take the benefits that come with intergenerational living for granted. And for the things that don’t work out, rather than blaming them on the living arrangement itself, all of us need to work on communication, better understanding of each others perspectives and adjusting our preferences in order to reach a solution that is mutually acceptable.

So for me, intergenerational living is a lot more than just an abstract concept, it is a lived experience that is a dynamic process rather than a fixed state. Although this is a snapshot of my story, I am sure that everyone living in this type of arrangement would have their own unique story and that the associated benefits and challenges are as diverse as humanity itself.

[Source: Lei Chen, Master of Ageing student]