Under one roof: More Canadians living in multigenerational households
Will Stroet along with his wife Kim The and three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ella live under the same roof with Will's parents Bill and Marion Stroet in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, November 4, 2013 7:13AM EST
With a baby on the way, Will Stroet and his wife, Kim The, realized their two-bedroom condo -- which doubled as a work space -- simply wasn't going be sufficient.
Fortunately, the couple received an offer that was too good pass up: an invitation from Stroet's parents, Bill and Marion, to move in.
Their daughter, Ella, is now three-and-a-half. Four years since they laid down roots in a duplex in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano, they're all still there: grandparents, parents and child, together under one roof.
"It's not only that we have more space, we also have the benefit of having my parents around and they can help with child care," said Stroet, 35, a children's musician and star of "Will's Jams" airing on Kids' CBC.
"We keep an eye on the house when they're both away. ... They like knowing that there's someone here keeping an eye on things. It's pretty good."
Art has imitated life of late with multigenerational family living providing comedic fodder on TV. The short-lived "How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)" featured Ottawa-born Sarah Chalke as a single mom moving back in with her parents following divorce. Freshman sitcoms "Dads" and "The Millers" centre on parents who move in with their adult children.
According to Statistics Canada, the 2011 census revealed there were 362,600 multigenerational households among more than 13 million private households across the country. Among them, the middle generation in 60.1 per cent of homes included a couple with children, while 36.5 per cent were lone parents.
There was also an increase in the number of children sharing homes with their grandparents -- including living arrangements where a parent may or may not be present. More than 269,000 kids aged 14 and under -- or 4.8 per cent -- lived with at least one grandparent in 2011, compared to 3.3 per cent in 2001.
In many cultures, the concept of multiple generations of families living together is quite typical and expected, noted Lynda Ashbourne, a family researcher and family therapist.
"There are culturally constructed roles for what the grandparents will do, what the parents will do, who shares in looking after children in the household and who brings in income and works outside of the home," said Ashbourne, an associate professor in the department of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph.
Where problems may arise is when cultural expectations and ideas about family run counter to what was previously viewed as the norm.
"What becomes more challenging is if you've grown up in a culture or family that really kind of privileges or honours the idea of independence and self-sufficiency," Ashbourne said.
"Those ideas that then would lead grandparents to believe they don't have to or shouldn't have to be involved in child care because they've done that work and now they have to have -- or would like to have -- more independence."
The same applies to parents who don't want others involved in raising their kids, or teens who may be at odds with having too many adults involved in decision-making and care, she added.
Yet for some families, surging costs of housing, child care and the need to be in close proximity to aging or ailing relatives makes the option of sharing a space appealing. And beyond the inherent financial benefit, living in close quarters with members of the extended family is viewed by those who've embraced the concept as a way to further strengthen familial ties.
In the case of Stroet, their existing home was constructed with a ground-level suite so that his grandfather could move in. It also has an upstairs area -- where Stroet lives now -- built to be more suited to a family home. Stroet's grandfather lived with Stroet's parents for nearly a decade before he died at age 96.
"Living with my parents as he aged and then passed away, it probably helped him live ... five years longer than he would've had he lived on his own. And certainly, the quality of his life was much, much better being with family."
Stroet said that there is a "communal feel" to sharing a home with his parents.
"It's not the sort of feeling that we're in two very separate living spaces. We have our own privacy and everything, but we definitely interact a lot, and certainly a lot more than we would if we were living somewhere else.
"I think everyone benefits from that. I know my daughter really loves it, my parents really love it, and honestly, I really like it, too."
After selling their home in 2008 during the U.S. economic crisis, Jessica Bruno, her husband and son returned to her childhood home to live with her parents. Initially intended as a temporary measure while they looked for another house, they never ended up leaving. And in 2011, her grandparents joined them.
The home in Sutton, Mass., just west of Boston, is about 5,500 square feet and sits on an acre of property. The renovation process included a basement overhaul, the addition of rooms, bathrooms and another kitchen, as well as the construction of another driveway with a separate entrance. She documents their do-it-yourself projects, family photos and more on her blog, Four Generations One Roof, which receives significant traffic from Canadian visitors.
"We could totally afford to build our own house and live on our own, but we just split everything. It just kind of works," said Bruno, 41.
"My mother does the bills at the end of the month and gives me a white piece of a paper with a breakout of what I owe, and it's half of everything."
Bruno said her parents are "awesome" and she relishes being back home with them, particularly since her seven-year-old gets to spend considerable time with his grandparents and great-grandparents.
"If I have an issue or a problem with something, it's all about communication. I mean, that's the key," said Bruno, who also has two stepdaughters who visit on weekends and holidays.
"My mom and dad have been really cool about letting me renovate and decorate the section that my husband and the kids and I, we all share. ... So they've been really good about letting me just do my own thing in my space."
Bruno said she's received many emails from families in similar circumstances inquiring about how they manage household finances and responsibilities.
"Either parents are moving in with their grown kids or kids are moving back in with their parents. I'm not the only one doing this," she said. "I think it's really, really prevalent and it's only going to continue."
Before setting up house, Ashbourne said it's important families are upfront in addressing potential conflicts that may surface, as well as how to balance privacy and togetherness.
With three, four or more adults involved in raising children, being able to discuss and determine who makes ultimate decisions and establishes bottom-line rules is critical.
"If you're asking a grandmother to handle a behavioural problem in a certain way that she feels uncomfortable with, that's not good for her or the child or for you as a parent," Ashbourne said.
Preteens and teens should also be involved in discussions pertaining to the reasons behind the living arrangement, potential challenges and how problems will be resolved.