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All the family under one roof

The multi-generational family is making a comeback.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 27, 2008

Tim Spatola hugs his grandson in the apartment he had added on to his daughter's home when she and her husband invited him to move in.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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As a new widower, Tim Spatola faced a crucial decision: where to live. His house was too big; a retirement community held little appeal and was also expensive. So when his daughter and son-in-law invited him to move in with them and their six children, he gratefully accepted. He paid for an addition to their house and joined them in June.

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"I'm very, very happy with it," says Mr. Spatola of Milton, Mass. "We have an excellent arrangement."

His daughter, Mary McCourt, adds, "He's very independent. It's working well."

Move over, adult children. The multi-generation household is making a comeback as Mom, Dad, kids, and grandparents live under one roof. The number of parents age 65 and older moving in with adult children increased by 62 percent between 2000 and 2007, the Census Bureau reports. Those under 65 who did so grew by 75 percent.

For some families, like Spatola's, the arrangement is a matter of choice. Others are driven together by high housing costs and economic need. In still other cases, caregiving is the motivating factor. Whatever the circumstances, the dynamics can be complex.

"Families have to think very carefully when they're considering an intergenerational household," says Allen Hager, president of Right at Home in Omaha, Neb., a network of agencies providing in-home assistance to seniors. "I've seen a lot of conflict in families. Women are taking on [most] of the household, child-rearing, and senior care."

He urges adult children and their spouses to talk about money, space, time management, and the role of family members. "A lot of times, finances aren't discussed," Mr. Hager says. "That can be sticky. What is [the parent's] financial situation and what will they contribute to the budget? What if they need paid care?"

For the McCourts, Spatola's presence offers mutual benefits. "Since he moved in, he seems to have a little kick in his step and a purpose," Mrs. McCourt says. "He picks up the kids at school and does some food shopping." He also cooks spaghetti and meatballs weekly for the family's dinner.

Spatola adds, "Being here is a plus for the grandchildren. I exert a lot of influence on them."

Giving children time with a grandparent is one reason Nikki Maxwell and her husband encouraged her divorced father to move from Seattle to their house in Los Angeles. A computer programmer in his early 60s, he works from home. "He saw that we needed help – help with the children, help with the finances," Mrs. Maxwell says. "He wanted to get closer to his three grandchildren. He's out there on the bike with them, and he plays with techie toys. I'm indoors cleaning and cooking, and they're at the park. We really value that."

Even so, challenges arise. "It's awkward when you are trying to redefine your relationship with your parent," she says. "We have a lot of control issues. Especially with the financial issues, it's hard to tell where there are strings and where there aren't. He won't lend us money, but he'll give it."