Multigenerational families are becoming increasingly common throughout the United States, and because of this it is important to learn how to prevent and deal with the issues that accompany such a family structure.
Currently, there are nearly four million American multigenerational households, consisting of two separate types. One is the householder with their children and grandchildren. The second is the householder with their children and their parents. So, what type you fall into depends on who owns the house and is responsible for the individuals in it. In most cases if you fall into the first category, the elderly person is taking care of the grandchildren.
Whatever the family structure, multigenerational families feel strained, especially family members that have the responsibility of providing for the food, shelter, and medical needs of the entire family.
Multigenerational families need policies and practices nationally and need their local communities to recognize and support their responsible actions. There are many issues and areas of concern that need to be addressed, so that they can be prevented and dealt with, including the following:
1. Legal issues– Many times relative caregivers have a difficult time obtaining legal assistance, and can not afford to do it all on their own. Many times they need assistance obtaining custody or guardianship, accessing public benefits, and to access school enrollment, and can not afford to hire an attorney to help them with this process. Many states offer legal aid based on the family’s income. Many times there is a waiting list for these services. So to prevent and deal with this issue, get on the waiting list early. Talk to the schools, or find a non-profit organization to represent you and help you through the legal matters.
2. Access to health care and medical records– It is quite common for relative caregivers to have difficulty accessing medical care for these children because they lack the authority to consent to the child’s treatment. One solution is to gain custody or guardianship of the child, which may require legal assistance. However, to prevent the problem, have written consent for such actions on file at the hospital you would typically go to. You can also check with your state’s legal aid office for more information on how to deal with and prevent this problem.
3. Enrolling children in school– Relatives caring for children not only find difficulty with health care but may also have difficulty enrolling children in school. They may also find it difficult to access school records without proof of legal guardianship or custody. Again, check with your local legal aid office for more information. To avoid medical and school related problems of this kind, gaining legal guardianship or custody may be the best solution.
4. Stress on caregivers– The stress felt by older caregivers that are caring for young children can be overwhelming at times. This overwhelming stress can result in a variety of stress-related illnesses. It can also be very difficult for children to adjust to living with a relative and may result in the child experiencing emotional problems. The typical every day stress of raising a family may be multiplied when a parent takes on the responsibility of caring for their parent along with their own children. As with many multigenerational family issues, there is no easy solution. Counseling services may be one way to deal with the stresses of multigenerational households. One way to ease the stress felt by the entire multigenerational family structure is team work. Families should learn to work as a team to solve problems and issues. To try and avoid unnecessary conflict, family members should respect each other and each other’s privacy and possessions. When trying to find solutions to issues and problems that may arise, it is best to get input from all family members.
For more information on multigenerational families, visit the Generations United web site. Generations United is a national organization focused solely on promoting intergenerational programs, strategies and public policies. This program represents more than a hundred national, state, and local organizations, along with more than 70 million Americans. The Generations United program is the only national organization advocating for the mutual well-being of children, youth, and older adults.