Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Multi-Generational Living

Our Family - including my sister and her husband who live up north.
I live in a multi-generational household by choice.

The topic of my living situation has come up quite frequently as of late in my social circle. Certainly not in a disparaging manner, but rather as a matter of presenting the facts as it were.

Allow me to divulge.

My husband and I and our one year-old live with my father, my mother, my brother, and my grandfather. Yes indeed, 7 people live in our house. I grew up living in this very same house with my sister, my brother, my aunt, my mother, my father, my grandmother, and my grandfather. Yes, that would be 8 people. To me, this multitude of people thing is part of the package of family. Part and parcel if you will.

Forgive the analytical side of me for a moment. It would seem that 16% of Americans now claim to live in multi-generational homes, based on the most recent report from the Pew Research Center. This is up by 4 percentage points from around the time I was born, twenty-eight years ago. Just 13% of those families are White, while 25% are Asian. I’ve long been aware this is a cultural thing, but I’m hopeful Americans will jump on board and recognize the positive aspects of such living. Rest assured, I was rocking this multi-generational thing long before the Obama's made it mainstream to live with your grandparents. Ask any of my elementary school friends.
I digress.

To be fair, my husband and I had two wonderful years of living on our own as a married couple. Our decision to move in with my family was not one that we took lightly and in fact we spent many months praying about whether or not it was the right decision for our soon to be family of three.

Logistically, we have our own area of the house so dismiss those images of us all crammed into a bedroom in a corner of the house. As my mom likes to quip - we are the modern day Walton's (though thankfully there are no 'goodnight' exchanges that stretch well into the evening). Steve and I have our own bedroom which is my childhood room revamped (thanks to the handiwork of my husband). Cutter has his own room which used to be my sister’s bedroom. Steve and I share an office/living room space in the loft and then as a larger family we share the kitchen, bathrooms, and main living areas of the home. My parents have their own living room as does my grandfather. Everyone has their own private area in which to retreat which I emphatically believe is crucial in such a varied living arrangement. Privacy is important and should be not only respected but cultivated.

As with any family there are days where perhaps one of us is not in the best of moods and emotions flare and things may get hairy. In truth, however, those moments are what bring us closer and make us stronger as a family. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

There are certainly things that I miss about having our own home (entertaining, my china, my dish towels, my choice of artwork) but in the grand scheme of things those are trivial and paltry sacrifices -things that I shouldn’t be attached to anyway, and the Lord has been good to remind me often of the verse from Matthew 6. Instead, I enjoy the relationships and the time (oh, the blessed time) that I have with my family.

I was talking with my mom the other night and one of the things that I said to her is that we chose to live with our family, not to co-habitate with them. It would be very easy for us to each stay in our respective corners of our house and not even associate with the other, but we intentionally congregate for meals, for conversation, for family. It is the core of my very being and I love it – and what’s more I love that my son is engaged with his grandparents and great-grandfather on a daily basis.

For many this is pure heresy and an abomination of epic proportions. I get that. But for my family of three, living with our family of seven is what works for us.

I grew up in the home that I am now raising my son. My father grew up in this home, and he raised me in it. My grandfather built this home and raised his son in it. I can only hope that maybe someday my son will raise his family in it, too. I’m traditional like that.

Many of my friends often assume that we have live-in babysitters in my parents. While it is true, it’s just not. Indeed my parents often pitch in and help if we have an appointment or otherwise, but we just as often pitch in to either help with building projects, maintenance, or to help in the care of my brother or grandfather. Balance is incredibly important. If you’ll remember my musings on a date night, we often reciprocate and my parents will get out for a date just the two of them. Intimacy is paramount to the structure of the home – and you have to be okay with knowing your parents are just next door. Small, minor detail.

This year has solidified our decision to live multi-generationally more than ever. It would seem the Lord has even deeper relationships to forge in our family this year, made possible only in our support of each other in our seemingly constant trials thus far. Our miscarriage, my grandfather’s fall, financial stress…

God has continued to show me grace in His inevitable provision for our family. Can I get an Amen to that?!

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