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The Rewards and Reality of Moving In With Your Adult Kids

Bite your tongue, roll with the punches and embrace the joy

older parents looking at each other while watching their adult children deal with a grandchild
Illustration by Jack Richardson

The baby — her face smeared with pureed peas, carrots and onions — squeals as Sunny, our rescue dog, scurries around the high chair, hoping the child will throw more scraps to the floor. On a chair at the dining table, our daughter tries valiantly to get food into her baby’s mouth. She chats with her college-student husband, who tonight has cooked a savory pasta dish, about her job as a law clerk. The couple’s cat, Hermes, pads across the printer on the countertop, ignoring the dog’s antics below. Across the table, my wife relates the events of her day caring for our granddaughter, which can be exhausting but feeds her soul. And me? Eating ziti with meatballs and marinara, I beam.

As empty nesters, my wife and I missed our crowded table. Now we’ve got that back, and much more, in this house of multigenerational madness.

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Last year, after 35 years of marriage, we downsized from a 3,000-square-foot home in Knoxville, Tennessee, into half of a 2,200-square-foot house in the Philadelphia suburbs. With our 31-year-old daughter (who’s shy about using her family’s names in an article), my son-in-law and our granddaughter, we’re living a grand experiment in our 60s — something others our age either seem to dream about or dread.

As it happens, we are trending. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 million Americans reside in households of two or more generations of adults. This is a record 18 percent of the U.S. population (thanks in no small part to young people moving home during the pandemic). It’s particularly true for Hispanics, Asian Americans and others for whom living in multigenerational groups is traditional.

In 1971, only 7% of Americans lived in multi-generational households; in 2021 it was 18%. 60% of parents living with an adult child say it's a positive experience for them.
AARP/Source: Pew Research Center

My wife and I reared our three daughters in East Tennessee, where we had moved for work in the ’80s. The cost of living is low, and the state is gorgeous; we frequently visited the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With a houseful of accumulated stuff, the inertia was intense. But we missed our kids, who’d gone to college, married and eventually decamped to Chicago, Connecticut and Philly. When our youngest daughter and her husband offered to cohabit, we uprooted our lives and moved 600 miles north.

To downsize, we held a giveaway, announced on Facebook. We put some possessions in the driveway and posted. Within minutes, people arrived with trailers and hauled off whatever they could. We’ve never missed the stuff we gave away, threw into a rented dumpster, sold or recycled. Most of what we had in our home turned out to be unnecessary to our lives: We’re far happier with fewer things.

The biggest reward of our situation is again being with family, particularly our granddaughter. We’ve lived with her since she came home at 2 days old. I’m disabled by a genetic disease, so I’m limited in what I can do to care for her. My more able-bodied wife spends her days feeding the baby blueberries and Cheerios, changing Honest Company diapers and, most important, playing with and teaching her — a callback to when we had three girls who were age 4 and under. It’s tougher for a 61-year-old caregiver than a 29-year-old one, but overall, “it’s rejuvenating,” my wife reports. “What I used to worry about doesn’t matter anymore. I’m living in the moment with my granddaughter. My life is much more joyful.”

My daughter says the best thing about living together is that her baby is “surrounded by people who will sing her songs or ask her questions and who deeply care about her. That is huge to me.”

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Another plus is saving money. The deal: My wife and I bought the house, and the kids pay half the mortgage and utilities, which is sometimes a strain but gives them a sense of ownership. We could have purchased a six-figure annuity, but we invested in our daughter’s family and ourselves.

There are realities, primarily lack of privacy, when five people live under one roof with thin walls. Fortunately, our downstairs is divided: The front living room is where my wife and I hang out and watch Dateline (with the sound turned low and closed captioning on, to avoid disturbing the kids). The den in back, on which we installed French doors, is where my daughter’s family can watch Netflix, play video games and listen to my son-in-law strum his banjo, which the baby loves. The open-concept kitchen and the dining room in the middle are neutral ground. There, we come together around that crowded table.

My daughter sometimes has another issue: “Any time you’re around your parents, there is an automatic return to the parent-child dynamic. There’s always a feeling that you’re still the ‘child’ in the house, that you’re not living the life of a true independent adult.” Pretty thoughtful kid. I mean … independent adult.

My advice for other 60-somethings contemplating multigenerational living:

Bite your tongue. My wife and I constantly remind ourselves that the kids are free to live as they see fit. Don’t take a “my house, my rules” attitude. We hold off on commenting about career choices or parenting; instead, we’re becoming trusted elders, giving advice only when asked.

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Roll with the punches. You can’t get, or stay, stuck in your ways. Particularly in a home with a grandchild, things constantly change and you just have to adapt. The upside: We love that our life is now so varied and stimulating.

Give your kids space. Sometimes make yourselves scarce. My wife and I take Saturday drives to state parks to give the kids alone time with their baby. We also go out for date nights, which we hope are dates for them too.

Don’t just love your children — like them. We adore our daughter and her family (plus Sunny and Hermes), though love isn’t enough to successfully live together as adults. You really need to genuinely like them. Our advice: Move in together only if you and your kids’ lifestyle, politics, personalities and values jibe.

My wife and I don’t know how this evolving experiment will unfold, or end. Perhaps we’ll reside with family until the end of our lives. Or maybe my daughter and son-in-law will move when he graduates (my wife and I assume we’d still provide day care for our granddaughter). All we can do is take each day as it is — sitting around a crowded table and savoring the squeals, the barks and the delightful madness.