Full House: Generations of Families Share Homes and Lives

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Affordable Housing, Community Engagement, Fort Wayne Media Collaborative, Renters | 0 comments

What happens when the adult kids come home to ride out the Covid lockdown and then settle in? Where can Mom or Dad go when they can’t live on their own anymore? Oftentimes, to conserve money and other resources, adult family members consolidate into one household. Due to the sharp jump in housing prices in Northeast Indiana and elsewhere within the past few years, this trend is increasing.

According to the 2020 census, 7.2% of US homes were multigenerational. These homes were most common in the southern US and across the eastern seaboard as well as in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. By this measure, Indiana was only slightly below the national average, with the share of multigenerational households in most counties between four and seven percent. Similar trends were noted for children living with grandparents instead of parents. 

Pew Research has shown that the number of Americans living in multigenerational homes has quadrupled since 1971, and the share of Americans living in these homes was 18% in 2021. This data includes “skipped” generations in which grandchildren live with grandparents. Young adult men (ages 25 to 29) are far more likely, at 37%, to live with parents than women of the same ages (26%). On the flip side, women age 65 and up are more likely to live with adult children or other family members (20%), while men of the same ages do so at only 15%.

Ethnicity and race also figure into this data. Multigenerational households are more popular with Black (26%), Hispanic (26%), and Asian (24%) families, while fewer white families (13%) live in multigenerational homes. 

Reasons for creating a multigenerational household vary, but data shows that economically vulnerable groups, such as people who are unemployed or who have an illness or injury that prevents them from working, benefit from living in multigenerational homes. Convenience in obtaining or providing care for a family member is another significant factor.

A few households opened their doors to us to share how multigenerational homes function in the modern era, in northeast Indiana and beyond.

Susan Ehle is a Fort Wayne homeowner who built a first-floor master suite onto her home when her mother broke her leg and could no longer live independently. Prior to her fall, Grandma had lived in her own home in Indianapolis, but needed to figure out a new situation. “She knew that she couldn’t take care of her own home. Yard work, daily bills, and dealing with plumbing issues was too overwhelming for her.” While managing her own home, repair people tended to overcharge her, and this caused her family additional concern. 

Given the choice between an assisted living facility, a nursing home, or a family home, Grandma chose to live with Susan’s family after recovering from her fall. 

“She had her own space, where everything was hers, and she had everything in there that she needed.” Her bathroom’s walk-in shower and toilet were customized for wheelchair use. 

Ehle had worked as an in-home aide and Certified Nursing Assistant before her mother moved in, so she was experienced with caregiving. Her CNA training included tasks like taking vital signs, helping a patient stand or sit, and managing medication.

Grandma lived with Susan and Susan’s husband Bud, plus her adult grandson Ben, for over a dozen years. During that time, her level of activity and independence decreased, while cleaning and caretaking increased for the rest of the household. She was over 100 years old when she passed away.

“When she first came here, she took care of cleaning her area herself, and it gradually became less.” Eventually, Grandma struggled with using appliances, causing damage to dishwashers, washing machines, ice dispensers, and even a coffee maker. “At that point, it was easier to do stuff than let her do stuff,” Ehle added. 

Her grandson’s presence in the house comforted Grandma, and he became her go-to whenever she needed help. “If Grandma fell, or if Grandma had a problem, she liked him taking care of her,” Ehle said. “He was definitely there for Grandma.” 

Phil DeVoe, a former Hoosier who has retired in North Carolina, currently lives in a three-generation home with his wife, stepson, daughter-in-law, and grandkids. He lived in Indiana until he completed medical school through IU School of Medicine and moved to sunny Florida for residency and, later on, work. 

He eventually had two homes: one near his medical office, and another in Canada, where he escaped for one week per month. “It was time spent decompressing from a busy medical practice, where chaos ruled.” He and his wife sold both properties to buy a large home in North Carolina near her son. Once settled, they often spent time with his stepson’s family. “We’d go over there, they’d come over here, at least half of the time. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but someone asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier if we all lived together?’” After figuring out the logistics of a move, they became a three-generation household.

Their family home checks a lot of boxes. His daughter-in-law requires airport access for her work, while his stepson needs high-speed internet for his. DeVoe and his wife must have a yard where they can putter. The home has enough bedrooms and playrooms for everyone, and is situated in a good area for schools that his grandkids attend. 

From morning coffee before work and the rush of getting the kids to school until the evenings when everyone returns, DeVoe enjoys the dynamic nature of living in a multigenerational home. “Everyone is working at something throughout the day. I really enjoy their company. The grandkids are very entertaining.”

Other benefits of everyone living together include the security of knowing that someone is home to manage repairs or maintenance, or even to feed the pets. Keeping the kitchen stocked is easier with several adults making grocery runs and ordering items in bulk, too. 

The one drawback he mentioned is that combining the household brought a total of five pets together… and those four cats and one dog don’t always get along. 

Overall, he’s happy with the setup. It’s an echo of his youth in Indiana’s rural Noble County, growing on a farm with siblings, having corn cob fights and chasing chickens with them and the kids of the other farmers who lived in the area. 

“I’m used to someone else being present. Having people that I know, that I spend time with, I enjoy that. Having another generation trapped in the house kind of appeals,” he joked. “There’s a lot going on, and I enjoy them.”

Jill Joiner of Fort Wayne moved in with her dad about 14 years ago when she was pregnant. Theirs became a three-generational household soon after, and has remained that way ever since. “I didn’t really think of moving out, mainly because I couldn’t afford to,” she recalled about her early days of motherhood.

“Dad seemed to enjoy the company. Then he had a stroke and was partially paralyzed. I’ve been helping care for him since then. It does make me feel better knowing I’m there for him, even if it does get tough sometimes. I’m glad he’s not alone.” Her father has cared for Joiner’s son, too, and they came up with ways to share household responsibilities so that everyone benefits. “We divide the bills,” she explained. “I do the shopping and cooking and cleaning.” 

A few more people chimed in about multigenerational living with the understanding that their comments would remain anonymous. The cost of rent and real estate was at the top of the list of reasons why they live in multigenerational households. 

One woman, retired and living with her 40-year-old daughter, said, “The cost of housing was the biggest issue. I’m good with my daughter here, until she has a good income.” Managing the home and its upkeep is another reason that she appreciates having her daughter there. “She’s also very helpful doing things I can’t or don’t want to do anymore. We do different chores around the house. Nothing formal.” 

One woman who lives with her adult son felt a great deal of tension when he moved his partner into her home without asking. “There’s a fight every day,” she said about that situation. 

Another couple, both retired, welcomed their son back home when he went through a major breakup. “Months turned to years, and now it has been over two years and we have all become accustomed to having him here. We all get along and enjoy spending time together.”

He has a growing business that requires most of his energy, so he doesn’t spend much time at home. His mother added, “He takes care of his needs and does his own laundry. Sometimes we will put it in the dryer and throw it on his bed, but that is only because he works long hours and is gone to meetings when the dryer finishes. He does not do too much cleaning of the bedroom, so I usually do a bit of dusting and vacuuming that I would do anyway if he were there or not.”

Finances were also a factor in this decision and arrangement, because rents are prohibitively expensive in their location. “For now, he can save rent money and hopefully he can purchase a home someday. That time will come when he is ready.”

As home prices and rents remain high and out of reach for many, multigenerational homes here and throughout the US will continue to be a way for families to pool resources, share caregiving responsibilities, save money, and avoid the high costs of living alone. However, the statistics from 2020 probably don’t provide the current picture of multigenerational living. If 7.2% of homes were multigenerational before a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and the percentage had been growing for 40 years until that point, this trend may continue—and these numbers may climb—well into the future.

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  • Gabi Lorino

    Gabi Lorino is a writer, editor, and organizer of people and words. Her feature articles and short stories have been published in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, and books. She has self-published one book, A Magical Time Called Later, in addition to a journal series, and has edited short story anthologies.

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