According to an article in the Burlington Free Press, “Vermont has the second-highest median age in the nation,” with one in six of us at or beyond 65 years of age. Some might say this makes us the second most fortunate state in the country, as our elders possess a vast wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and experience that contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our lives and communities.
Living with My Grandmothers Brought Us All Closer
I grew up in a large family, in a large house. Because the house was so large, when the time came for my Dad’s mother to give up her house, we had plenty of room for her to move in with us. From the time I was ten years old, she had her own room in our home and joined in the daily activities of the family. Years later, after my father and his mother had passed, my Meme, (Mom’s mom) moved in, providing company and comfort to my widowed mother.
With my Meme around more often, I was able to practice the rudimentary French I had learned at home and in school, as she didn’t speak any English, and we would perform linguistic gymnastics daily in our efforts to communicate. Alas, my French skills didn’t improve but having my French-speaking Meme close by provided me the opportunity to operate outside of my language constraints. It also forced me to better understand my elders and practice personal interaction.
For my grandmothers, living in our home enabled them to maintain a good quality of life, close to other family members and the community where they had lived for most of their lives (watch re-runs of “The Waltons” and you’ll understand!). Here, they were able to keep living their life with the people they loved, enjoying the support and care of people who were dialed into their needs.
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The “Sandwich Generation” Faces Challenges and Opportunities
Many people in the workforce are now in the same place my parents were in when my grandmothers lived with us – the time of life referred to as the “sandwich generation.” This is the generation that is working, raising children, planning for college, and saving for retirement while also caring for aging parents. This generation has a lot on their plate, with the compounding of kids’ activities with carpooling, appointments, financial pressures, and assisting aging parents. Additionally, many Americans are living longer lives, and they want to be involved with their grandchildren while maintaining an independent lifestyle.
Aside from the traditional nursing home, the sandwich generation has many options to choose from when their parents can no longer live on their own; these include assisted living, independent living, nursing care, adult communities, and adult daycare, all of which pervade the lexicon of life before and after homeownership. Multigenerational housing is one of the newer buzzwords, created (by marketers, no doubt) to highlight another housing alternative that really is not as new as it sounds.
Multigenerational Housing Offers Benefits to All Generations
Multigenerational housing refers to multiple generations of a family living under one roof, a practice that is widespread in many cultures and was once a norm in the United States, where we are now witnessing an increased return to this mode of living. In the building and financing industries, the term refers more specifically to the addition of a room, suite, or separate building onto an existing property with the intent to provide housing for extended family members or groups. Each unit is unique and the needs are specific for every situation. Some may find it less expensive to convert a garage, or add a bathroom or living space rather than establish and fund a separate residence elsewhere.
Multigenerational housing enables parents to feel more socially connected, which leads to a healthier aging process, contributing to their overall health and wellbeing. With most senior living options costing more than the average person can afford, multigenerational housing can be a huge money saver (and therefore a huge stress reducer) for the sandwiched generation. It can also strengthen family bonds, improve cultural awareness and understanding in the younger generations; and provide greater financial, emotional, and social support and for all family members.
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