The United States Department of Commerce Census Bureau defines multigenerational households as households that consist of three or more generations of parents and their families.
There are two types of family structures that the majority of multigenerational households fall into. One structure consists of families with the householder, his or her children, and grandchildren. The grandparent or older family member in this type of structure is often the primary caregiver and responsible for the children under eighteen. This type of household represents 2.6 million of the 3.9 million multigenerational families in the United States. In this type of multigenerational family the older relatives may feel a particular strain to their finances, health, and emotional state. Many feel they are too old to care for children at this time in their lives.
The other common type of multigenerational family consists of a householder, his or her own children, and his or her own parents. There are 1.3 million of these types of multigenerational families in the United States. Quite often the householder was not expecting to be caring for their parents as well as their own children. The head of these types of multigenerational families is often strained by the responsibility of providing food, shelter and medical needs of their parent along with the daily demands of raising their own children.
There are many factors that contribute to the high number of multigenerational families. Some common factors include:
/ High housing costs
/ High cost of living
/ Recent immigrants that move into the United States
/ Large numbers of unwed mothers that live with their parents
/ Increased numbers of grandparents and other relatives raising children due to death of a parent, child abuse or neglect, incarceration, mental health problems or family violence.
So, how do you deal with the multigenerational housing issues? First you have to know what they are. Multigenerational families have several areas of concern that need to be looked at. Some of the most common areas are:
1. Stress on caregivers– Parents caring for their parents are often times overwhelmed with responsibility of not only caring for their parent, but the responsibilities and stress of caring for their own children. Older adult caregivers feel concern and stress because of their own health issues and the responsibility for the care of young children. To deal with this, hire outside help, or outline responsibilities clearly.
2. Housing– Many times relatives begin caring for young children with little or no warning, with no time to prepare. Therefore, they have difficulty accommodating the children. They may not have the room or live in elderly housing, which often times do not allow children. Families taking on the care of an older family member may not have a home with handicap features such as a handicap accessible bathroom. These families may find it difficult to find different housing that will accommodate their children along with their older relative that is affordable. So, to deal with this, give time for making this decision, or get rid of items and rearrange the home so that everyone fits and has some personal space.
3. Education– It is quite common for schools to be geared towards “nuclear” families and may pose obstacles for relative-headed families. Many times older relatives are unable to enroll the child in school and also unable to access school records without proof of legal guardianship or custody. To deal with this problem, get written consent from legal guardians, or formally adopt the child.
4. Legal– Quite often older relatives that are caregivers have difficulty obtaining legal assistance. The types of legal assistance commonly needed are to access public benefits, to obtain custody or guardianship and to access health insurance for the children. Families caring for an older relative may need assistance making a will or trust. For this it is best to hire an attorney to help sort through things, or contact a non-profit law firm to have them help.
5. Medical– It is often difficult for relative caregivers to include the children on their health insurance policies. Also, they have difficulty accessing medical care for these children because they lack the authority to consent to treatment of the child. Once again, adoption is the best solution.
For more information on multigenerational families and how to deal with some of the issues they pose, visit the Generations United web site.