Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life - Return of multigenerational households

[...] Like the Obamas’ new domestic arrangement, whereby Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s 71-year-old mother, will become a third head of household and the primary caregiver for two children born to two high-achieving parents, the linchpin of the Baker-Roby household is a grandmother. Theirs is an old-fashioned scenario that fell out of style as Americans drifted to the hermetically sealed nuclear family. Since the early part of the last century, academics have noted the waning of this arrangement in the United States, because of increased mobility, smaller families and even Freudian attitudes, rampant at midcentury, that described “too close” adult maternal ties as unhealthy.

It is a choice, however, that is cycling back into favor. A recent study by AARP shows that multigenerational households are on the rise, up from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million last year, an increase from 4.8 percent of all households to 5.3 percent. It’s not always a smooth ride — families being what they are — but it’s still an appealing solution to the work-life conundrum.

Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president for livable communities at AARP, sees a number of forces contributing to these numbers. “There is some cultural play here,” she said, “as we become more and more a nation of new immigrants who bring that tradition with them. Yet 25 percent of American boomers we surveyed said they expected to have their parents move in with them, and were looking forward to it.” For all these reasons, she said, “Our cultural norms are shifting. There is a great renaissance of what we think about when we think about family.”

And it looks as if one particular family relationship — that of adult daughters with their mothers — may be entering a period of more than just détente, as veterans of the women’s movement endeavor to help their own daughters achieve the work-life balance that may have eluded them. That’s why Ellen Pulleyblank Coffey, 65, a family therapist and author in Berkeley, Calif., calls herself a “feminist grandmother” for her role in caring for Cole, the 2-year-old son of her daughter, Sarah Patrick, an urban planner whose husband, Todd Patrick, is a graphic artist [...]

1 comment :

  1. Due to our mother's chronic illness, my siblings and I were very much raised by our grandparents and great aunts.

    This was a wonderful experience for us that has had positive life long effects that we are very grateful for (although no one should ever know from chronic illness in the family).

    For example, my siblings and I are among the rare people in their 40s who speak Ladino as a first language.

    We know how to do things like rend chicken fat, kasher a chicken including removing the feathers, make lacto fermented pickles in a big barrel, darn socks, make laundry starch, bake bread with sour, make homemade sausage out of chicken skins or intestines, make pasta and any other number of useful things just because we lived with older relatives.

    Knowing how to do these things can elevate one to celebrity status in a crowd of adherents to the very popular Weston A. Price Foundation diet.

    We also spent a lot of time in "the store" after school. My great uncle had a kosher deli and bakery where I learned the secrets of sourdough and other artisan baking techniques.

    From my grandfather, who was in the furniture business, I learned to do upholstery, to refinish furniture and so other useful things.

    From my grandmother who was a seamstress, I learned to make over an out of style skirt or blouse and do alterations.

    I also grew up in an appliance store, a paint store, a cleaning supplies store as these were the businesses owned by the various relatives who pitched in to care for us. Knowing a little bit about each of these businesses has been very useful.

    As our grandparents got older and we got bigger and stronger, my siblings and provided our grandparents the ability to stay in their home because we helped with the cleaning, laundry and lawn care etc.

    One of the good things about economic hard times is the return of relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. It is much better for everyone if grandparents are with the children and the children are with the grandparents rather than sticking both away in institutional settings.


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