Multi-generational living (or multiple generations living under the same roof) is standard procedure in many cultures, but today’s living challenges are seeing families of all cultures and creeds embracing a co-living environment.
“In South Africa, it has become common-place to see families of three or more generations sharing a home,” says Craig Mott, Cape Town Regional Sales Manager for the Rawson Property Group. “From a financial perspective, it makes perfect sense to combine resources and share living costs, but it also enables families to share things like childcare and care of the elderly, which can be a challenge when people are working full time.”
That’s not to say living with your parents or grandparents as an adult is without challenges of its own – particularly if you’ve grown used to having your own space and are new to a communal living environment. According to Mott, there are ways to make the transition (and general experience) much easier for everyone involved.
Here are his tips on doing just that.
Plan your space
“A single-family home and a multi-generational home should, ideally, look quite different,” says Mott, “since each generation really needs a space of their own in which to enjoy some solitude and privacy. Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have a convenient granny flat to provide easy separation when necessary, but a few minor renovations can be just as effective in a crunch.”
Mott highly recommends adding a small kitchenette and en-suite bathroom to a second bedroom or living space if possible. This gives the elderly (or young professionals living with their parents) the ability to do most daily activities without having to join in with the main house if they don’t want to. (Done well, it can also add value to your home when you decide to sell!)
Garages are often the focus of renovations for creating a secondary living space but be cautious to have plans approved before doing renovations and not to do any renovations that will affect the sale price of your property down the line.
“The ability to take time out in your own space is essential,” he says. “A little bit of autonomy goes a long way towards creating a peaceful and happy multi-generational home.”
Mott also urges homeowners to take the physical challenges of old age into account when planning a multi-generational layout.
“It’s always a good idea to give elderly family members ground-floor living spaces with no stairs or potential tripping hazards,” he says. “Depending on their level of health and activity, you may also want to keep them close enough to hear them call for help if they need a hand.”
Lay out the ground rules
One of the biggest benefits of multi-generational living is that all residents can contribute to the household. According to Mott, those contributions don’t always have to be financial, but should be planned and agreed to in advance.
“Unemployment and other financial difficulties are often the reason kids move in with their parents or vice versa,” he says. “That means it’s not always possible for everyone to share expenses like food and rent equally. Make sure you discuss finances upfront, as well as other household contributions like cooking, cleaning and childcare, and make sure everyone is happy that they’re doing their fair share to add value to the home environment.”
Have a plan in place for conflict resolution
Human nature means no home is ever entirely without conflict, and having family members from various generations under one roof means disagreements are bound to arise. According to Mott, having a plan in place for handling these situations when they happen is important not only for keeping peace in the home, but also making sure everyone feels like their concerns and opinions are being heard.
“How you decide to handle conflict may depend on the living arrangements that you have,” he says. “If everyone is sharing household responsibilities equally, then it may be appropriate to vote on all major decisions. If one generation is footing the entire bill for the home and all its occupants, on the other hand, they may want the final say.
“Either way, it’s always best to discuss any changes and talk through disagreements as calmly as possible. You won’t be able to keep everyone happy all the time, but you can certainly make sure everyone understands each other’s viewpoints and considers the feelings of those around them before making decisions that affect the whole house.”