In Praise of the Multi-Generational House: Building Family Wealth While Annoying the Shit Out of Each Other

On my publishing salary, it took a full year to save up enough money for the first month’s rent and security deposit. I also needed that time to convince my Italian mother that moving out of the house at 23 wasn’t the dumbest move ever. Once the yelling stopped and the savings added up, I grabbed a buddy and moved to Queens. I didn’t have to move — my family’s home was a short bus ride to New York City — but moving out was an imperative just the same. 

I craved independence and adventure, so spending my whole paycheck on rent and food felt like the right move for me. And I did have a marvelous time. But moving out also meant that I pissed away rent money for years. Steve and I didn’t own a home until I was 38, only due to a little help from my parents.

Our kids are technically adults — boys! [insert a snort and an eye roll] — but they are still home with us. Bucking the pressure for us all to go our separate ways, I think we’ll keep this band together. After all, remaining together in a multi-generational home is the best way to build family wealth, even if we annoy the hell out of each other.

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19 thoughts on “In Praise of the Multi-Generational House: Building Family Wealth While Annoying the Shit Out of Each Other

  1. I admire those who can make this work for them while still allowing independence, privacy, and alone time for everyone. I, personally, need a lot of time alone, and having more people in the house makes that difficult.

    I have also not developed the skill of giving my children appropriate independence.

    (I’ll note food costs money whether they are with you or not, though there might be benefits of scale and pennywise cooking).


    1. We have all three with us, and the intended of #2. It’s a big house, which helps. And rents in our area are very challenging, which means they are more willing to put up with us than they might have been in the cheap rent before time.


  2. In the west and especially North America I think we’ve fetishized independence vs. interdependence. That old cliché of it taking a village to raise kids is true, yet we’ve done our best to create isolated family units. We fetishize the trappings of “independence” yet ignore the costs, both social and financial.

    Multi generational families living together is the norm in most of the world yet we believe that it’s weird and lesser to do so. (Similar to co-sleeping btw). It’s like all we know about setting boundaries is to physically be separated into separate homes. And capitalism benefits hugely from nuclear families – more homes, more cars, more more more. More “stuff” purchased to make ourselves feel better and less lonely and less stressed.

    And with housing so expensive in so many places we now have the “performance” of living independently where families are subsidizing their kids’ homes and apartments. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that this is a bad decision to support your kids. But how it’s done can create either dependence or interdependence.

    I’m blabbering all over the map here as I’m rushing out the door. Net net, it’s a lot more nuanced and I think we’ve given up a lot without realizing it.



  3. I’m completely down with this. My mother-in-law moved in with us when she retired, for financial reasons and for health reasons which (yay!) did not become as much of an issue. Having a third adult is sometimes challenging and yeah, we have no guest bedroom, but having her safe during Covid and inflationary times plus just…having more connection is awesome.

    For my kids I feel the same. As long as I have space in my home for them, they are welcome and I hope they will want to stay and save up money. If not, I support them in their quest.

    My husband and I bought our first house pretty early all things considered. We didn’t have student debt, which helped a lot. We were in an apartment but the costs were very different then.


  4. Here’s the issue. Will you let your kids have sex with other people under your roof? If so, they will probably live with you. If not, if they are smart, they will move out. Frankly, that’s what it was about for me. I feel that’s the primary issue here in the US in terms of multigenerational households. My parents weren’t down with that and I never moved back to their house except for like a week or a month. I never regretted it either (but things were a lot cheaper in the 90s).


  5. IMHO its about whether parents let their kids have sex in the house. If yes, they can probably continue to build a multi-generational household in the 21st c. If not, the kids will probably want to leave. (obvs this is not the case in some cultures, but in most assimilated ones…that’s the issue!) This was true in the 90s too.


  6. Agreed that the sex factor will be a factor. Right now, Jonah’s girlfriend sleeps on guest bed in the office when she stays over, because he sleeps on the sofa at her house. I don’t want to be the parent who caves in first. Ugh. Well, they are both too busy to see each other much right now, so it isn’t too much of an issue.


    1. Well, they are having sex in both houses; I’d put money on it. I am a live and let live kind of person. If I rented a room in my house to someone, or I had family or friends visiting, I wouldn’t forbid them from having sex. So why would I do that with my kids, especially if there aren’t younger kids in the house.

      (As an aside, my daughter has been semi-dating someone in Berlin, but she’s been meh. The breaking point was that she found out today he got kicked out of a Bob Dylan concert for taking photos. I said, “Are you upset because he was kicked out or because it was a Bob Dylan concert?” She said because it was Bob Dylan.) (OK, she was joking; she just thought it was cringe in general.)


    2. Yeah. This isn’t the deal breaker for me. My daughter is a slob. That’s the deal breaker. Sex? Whatever, they’re adults. But my kids are older than yours.


  7. If I had a bigger house maybe. But no way here. My house is less than 1400 sqft including the finished basement. And I have 2 large dogs and a cat. Nope nope nope.


  8. I think there would have been homicide if my sister and I tried to stay with our parents in our 1100 square foot home with one small bathroom. The constant ringing of the landline already drove my dad crazy. Of course in the late 80s in Cleveland rent was cheap. My sister both rented a nice 1 bedroom and saved money. (She had majored in nursing.) When she got married at 26 she and her husband bought a nice colonial for $135K.

    Now, I did move to California right after college partly because I needed to live where it was less fraught to be gay and mostly because my parents cut me off for a while due to same. But I still wouldn’t have wanted to be squashed into my parents’ home – they would have been annoyed with the constant coming and going of 20 something social life, and I would have found my father’s insistence that we wash our big 80s hair in the laundry room tub because of the finicky bathtub drain impossible.


  9. It occurs to me that the issues about sex (or actually sharing a room, since one can happen without the other) is a subset of the general discussion about what rules parents have for adult children living at home and whether the adults treat each other like adults.

    It seems to me that in general, the rules for the adults should be adult rules, not ones that apply only to the adult children. Say, it makes sense that shares information about whether they are going to be home for dinner, for the night, traveling. Everyone contributes to cooking and cleaning. I guess, a rule, like only when you’re married do you share a room differentiates the parents from the other adults in the home, usually, but, it seems week to me and clearly sets up an incentive to move out.

    I never lived at home after going away for college, and neither did spouse, and neither of us lived in the town our parents lived in after college (or, except for two summers for me, during college). So to us, our kids not living at home seems normal.


    1. Yes, in my case living with my father’s increasing eccentricities was just not happening. My sister got her first nursing job in the city where she went to college. When she moved back to Cleveland a year later she lived with our parents a few months and it was rough because she had gotten used to a different lifestyle. Her job in Cleveland was way more stressful and when she came home she often just wanted to hibernate in her room with some crackers while my parents expected her to join them for dinner. Then there was the keeping of the thermostat at 64 all winter.
      My sister meanwhile has a bigger home and a more relaxed lifestyle and we fully expect at least one of her daughters to live with their parents for a while after college.


  10. We’ve got 2900 sq. ft, 4 bedrooms (well, one is a converted office), and 3.5 baths, so it’s been really doable to live together as a family of 5 (kids being currently 20, 17 and 10) plus a cat.

    Our college junior has been quite happy to live at home and walk to class. The high school senior is very eager to get out and live in the dorm (possibly two blocks away) and get a car eventually, but I was pitching him about how he can bring friends home and do cooking projects once he’s in college. (He was playing tennis with friends and making a version of cinnamon toast with them at our house this weekend.) We’re willing to pay for two years of dorm (some of the themed communities require a two-year commitment), but I don’t see us paying for more than that. There is a scholarship that he could apply for that covers 4 years…

    I’m OK with the idea of young adults living at home past college (which is mildly scandalous in my WASP tradition), BUT I am very, very, very negative about the idea of young couples living with family for anything other than dire emergencies, especially early in the relationship. People (even really nice, smart people!) regress around their parents and parental influence warps relationships and makes it really hard to establish independence and adult marital relationships. I just can’t even imagine how messed up my husband and I would be if we’d spent our newlywed years under my in-laws’ roof…Sometimes you have to have conversations that other people don’t need to hear or participate in, and I’m happy I didn’t get more in-law input on the division of labor in our marriage. (On visits, my FIL believed that my husband should be spending all of his time either a) working or b) helping his parents while I did all the kid stuff. Let me tell you, that was tons of fun for me.)

    Maybe other people are different, but I see huge pitfalls to trying to build a new marriage while competing with the other woman in your husband’s life…(My sister and her husband lived fairly successfully with his parents as newlyweds, but it was a) a huge house and b) they had the whole downstairs with a kitchenette.) I love my MIL and we have a great relationship…but it took a while to work out all the kinks, and part of what makes it work is that we live 2,000 miles apart.


    1. AmyP, every now and then I go down the trash rabbit hole that is the Reddit “Am I The A**hole” sub and I feel for the couples compelled by economic issues to live with parents.


      1. Marianne said, “AmyP, every now and then I go down the trash rabbit hole that is the Reddit “Am I The A**hole” sub and I feel for the couples compelled by economic issues to live with parents.”

        I can only imagine!


  11. I just had an unreasonable flare up at my college kid who is home for a week for fall break because he didn’t empty the dishwasher and filled the fridge with take out containers. So, I think I am not a very good adult parent of an adult child living at home. But, our house does have the possibility of an accessory dwelling unit in the basement complete with its own fridge and dishwasher, so I think that if the adult kids were to return home, that would be the plan. Another possibility is that the adult parents have another dwelling (condo, vacation home, . . . ) and travel and use the ADU when in the city. Kids are talking about returning to this city, so it’s not all theoretical.

    I don’t see the sharing of homes as some kind of moral issue. It depends on how people treat each other and if everyone living together has what they need to grow and have independence and joy in their lives.


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