He’s dating someone the family doesn’t know. Many nights, they go out dancing and do who knows what else. He has his own car, and they hope that he’s being responsible. Sometimes he joins them for dinner, sometimes not.
â€¨The Hoods could be talking about their 16-year-old son—or they could be referring to his 82-year-old grandfather. In 2011, when Jim Hood moved in with his son, Matthew, his wife and their three children, the family found itself navigating a growing cultural phenomenon. In 2010, 4.4 million homes had three or more â€¨generations living together—a 30-percent increase from 2000.â€¨
“It was common for Grandmom or Grandpop to live with the family in decades past, but now people are living longer and healthier lives, so it changes the dynamics and the duration of the situation,” says Dr. Matt Kaplan, a professor of intergenerational programs and aging at Penn State University. “The other difference is that a lot of young adults return to live at home.”â€¨
A call to Florence Agoglia begins with the sound of her daughter, Mary Hoeltzel,â€¨ shouting to her son, Gerard—an 18-year-old Haverford School graduate heading to the University of Pennsylvania—that, yes, he still has to tell her where he’s going and what time he’ll be home. It doesn’t faze Agoglia, who raised four children and worked as a teacher.â€¨
With Hoeltzel working full time as vice president and chief accounting officer at Cigna, Agoglia wanted to help care for her two kids. “When I’m here with Mary and the children,” she says, “the house is filled with happiness—even when they’re shouting.”â€¨
And do Agoglia and her daughter have â€¨their own shouting matches? “Oh, no,” Agoglia says. “We get along wonderfully. There are no problems to speak of. None at all.”â€¨
“Right,” laughs Susan Shapiro, executive director of the Wayne Senior Center, where Hood and Agoglia are members. “Understand that they belong to a generation of people who don’t talk openly about family conflict, and they don’t complain about anything. They’re of the ‘grin and bear it’ era.”â€¨
And while the approach may work during family visits, stifling opinions and emotions can lead to full-blown conflict, says Shelby Riley, a licensed therapist in Chester Springs and president of the Pennsylvania Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. “Many women try to become the perfect mom, wife, and daughter or daughter-in-law. Perfection is never attainable, and that makes them very sensitive to criticism, even when none is intended.”
â€¨Communication is key. If emotional subjects aren’t comfortable, start withâ€¨practical matters—like where in the house the grandparent will live. Agoglia started out in a bedroom, but her daughter is building her an apartment that’s attached to the house. “We’d like just a little bit of privacy,” she says.â€¨
Hood’s apartment is 75 feet from the main house. “Those 75 feet are the reason I chose to live with this son, as opposed to my other children,” he says.
â€¨It all has to do with the interplay of independence and interdependence. “Talk about the different roles and responsibilities in your household,” advises Riley. “Grandmom might like to cook dinner one night a week, or perhaps she never wants to cook again. Grandpop might like to come to some of the kids’ baseball games and recitals, but not all of them. Talk about all of that, and check in with one another on a monthly basis.”
â€¨And when it comes to rules and discipline, grandparents and parents should never disagree with one another in front of the children. “Privately, parents should tell the grandparent, ‘If we’re making a decision that you don’t agree with, please don’t say so in front of the child. Save it for later. But please do tell us. We want your input because we value your wisdom.’”
â€¨Passing on that wisdom is one of the best benefits of intergenerational living, Kaplan says. “We find that intergenerational living strengthens ties to family history, religion, ethnic background, and even the history of America and the world,” he says. “When it works out, grandparents become another resource and stabilizing force in the lives of young children and teenagers—and even young adults.”â€¨
Grandparents also need friends their own age, Shapiro says. Places like the Wayne Senior Center become critical for social interaction. Agoglia frequents the center and loves it.â€¨
Hood moved to Wayne after living in Arkansas for 15 years. He found the center helpful in his geographic adjustment. “I was going a little crazy because I was in new surroundings and didn’t know what to do with myself,” he admits. “Having a [place to go] and a schedule of activities made a huge difference.”â€¨
That’s where Hood met the lady friend with whom he goes out dancing. Does he ever tell his son where he’s going and when he’s coming home? “No,” he laughs. “I just say, ‘don’t wait up.’”
Source: Pew Research Center
Number of Americans living in intergenerational households in 1950.
Number of Americans living in intergenerational households in 1980.
Number of Americans living in intergenerational households in 2008.
Adults 25-34 living in a multigenerational household in 1980.
Adults 25-34 living in a multigenerational household in 2008.