living your yoga May 17, 2022

The return to a multigenerational home.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a similar response from people when I share that I am now living with my daughter, her husband, and my new grandson.

The familiar response is “I wish my mom could live with me.”  

The question I ask you now is how did we get so far away from the multi-generational household?

Are we so triggered by unresolved family issues that we, as a society, decided that living with our parents was a no-no? A conflict? A lack of independence?


Since the “nuclear family” developed between 1950 and 1965 (a married couple and their children) the family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.

David Brooks wrote for the Atlantic in March 2020:
“People who grow up in a nuclear family tend to have a more individualistic mind-set than people who grow up in a multigenerational extended clan.

People with an individualistic mind-set tend to be less willing to sacrifice self for the sake of the family, and the result is more family disruption. People who grow up in disrupted families have more trouble getting the education they need to have prosperous careers. People who don’t have prosperous careers have trouble building stable families, because of financial challenges and other stressors. The children in those families become more isolated and more traumatized.”

“If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, to smaller, detached nuclear families. Children are more often raised so that at adolescence they can fly from the nest, become independent, and seek partners of their own. We take it as the norm, even though this wasn’t the way most humans lived during the tens of thousands of years before 1950.”


Did you know that the most common type of family worldwide is the extended family which includes at least three generations: grandparents, married offspring, and grandchildren?

My daughter and I are determined to be living examples of this more supportive household model. The saying goes “It takes a Village to raise a child” and our hope is that the way of “the village” returns. 

Extended families have two great strengths. The first is resilience. An extended family is one or more families in a supporting web. Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents—a complex web of relationships among several people. If a mother dies, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are there to step in. If a relationship between a parent and a child ruptures, others can fill the breach. Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens.

A detached nuclear family, by contrast, is an intense set of relationships among fewer people (average 4.2). If one relationship breaks, there are no shock absorbers. In a nuclear family, the end of the marriage means the end of the family as it was previously understood.

The second great strength of extended families is their socializing force. Multiple adults teach children right from wrong, how to behave toward others, how to be kind. Multiple children gain the benefit of siblings even as an only child.


In 1850, roughly 75 percent of Americans older than 65 lived with their kids and grandkids. In 1980, only 12 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households. But the financial crisis of 2008 prompted a sharp rise in multigenerational homes. Today 20 percent of Americans—64 million people— live with an extended family. This doesn’t count the large share of seniors who are moving to be close to their grandkids but not into the same household.

I know this story all too well. I pay rent at my California residence with my daughter to the homeowner who left to be with his son in Arizona. I rented my Montana home so that a young father could relocate from Portland to be with his son. Many of my friends in their 60’s and 70’s are uprooting their lives to follow their children be a part of their grandchild’s upbringing. Are you one of them?


The prioritization of family is beginning to make a comeback. The return of multigenerational living arrangements is already changing the built landscape. A 2016 survey by a real-estate consulting firm found that 44 percent of home buyers were looking for a home that would accommodate their elderly parents, and 42 percent wanted one that would accommodate their returning adult children.

Home builders have responded by putting up houses that are seen as “two homes under one roof.” These houses are carefully built so that family members can spend time together while also preserving their privacy.

The “in-law suite,” the place for aging parents, as well at the “millennial suite” for boomerang adult children, has its own entrance, kitchenette, and dining area. This speaks to a common realization: Family members of different generations need to do more to support one another.

 Now having experienced six months of three-generational living. I can vouch for the importance of a little distance between. My own small studio is a haven to which I can retreat while giving my daughter and her family the privacy they need and deserve.  This helps to keep the peace, inside and out.

In the worlds of Kahlil Gibran:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you….  Stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”

The shared desire to live in extended and forged families are a common theme in my conversations these days. This shift in living dynamics is both new and ancient at the same time. This is a significant opportunity, a chance to thicken and broaden family relationships, a chance to allow more adults and children to live and grow under the loving gaze of a dozen pairs of eyes, and be caught, when they fall, by a dozen pairs of arms.

For decades we have been eating at smaller and smaller tables, with fewer and fewer kin. It’s time to find ways to bring back the big tables again.


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