My Zeyde lived with us in my parents’ home, He used to laugh, he put me on this knee, He spoke about his life in Poland, He spoke but with a bitter memory.
The Rise of Multigenerational Households
Multigenerational households are the norm in many cultures but in North America independence and selfsufficiency have for decades been the aspired ideals. Multigenerational living has not been encouraged. However, this trend is reversing. Statistics Canada 2011 reports that approximately 363,000 households consist of three or more generations. This represents a double-digit percentage increase when compared to the census of five years ago, and the 2016 figures will likely show another dramatic upturn.
A 2013 Global Television documentary states that “for many families, surging costs of housing, child care and the need to be in close proximity to aging or ailing relatives makes the option of sharing a space appealing. And beyond the inherent financial benefit, living in close quarters with members of the extended family is viewed by those who’ve embraced the concept as a way to further strengthen familial ties.”
The Roles of Seniors in Extended Families
Sharing a home with adult children and grandchildren has benefits for all involved. Often the senior members are the main providers of support and care for the entire family. They perform child-minding and chauffeuring for the youngest generation when the parents are at work, they run errands, provide general home-management, and do the planning and preparations of meals. In his 2016 report to the Vanier Institute, Nathan Battam points out that “many seniors make significant contributions to family finances. More than half report that at least some responsibility for household payment and the provision of childminding “can have a significant impact on family finances, since childcare costs can consume a significant portion of family income. This is particularly true for parents of infants.”
In cases where the older person may need medical, physical and/or social assistance adult children are available to help and to monitor process and progress. The older generations benefit from interaction with family members in a familial setting. Battam emphasizes in his report that “regular company with family members can prevent social isolation among seniors, which research has shown can have wide-ranging detrimental effects on their health and well-being.”
Research shows that multigenerational households have the capacity to benefit all its members. Aside from the financial advantages in sharing costs, adult children have “built in” childminders, home-managers and family historians. Children and grandchildren assist the frail elderly relatives with social, medical, and physical needs. Living in a multi-generational home lessens the social isolation and the marginalization felt by so many seniors. The youngest generation gets to truly know their grandparents, learn about family history, traditions and cultural origins.
The Demographic Challenge of Aging for the Elderly
The conclusion of a US National Institute on Aging study states that support and caregiving among generations is fluid. Older people help the younger generations and they in turn are the primary source of support for their older relatives. However the report points out that in “countries with very low birth rates, future generations will have few if any siblings. Thus there will be fewer children to assume care and support for older people.”
The alarming part of demographic research shows us that in the developed world, the birthrate is declining; thus in the future, there will be fewer children looking after more seniors. These findings must be taken as a challenge to all of us who are older to advocate on our own behalf and teach the younger generations how to provide appropriate, respectful and dignified programs and services for the elderly.
As the song goes: “Who will be the Zaydes of our children, who will be the Zaydes, if not we?”