Multigenerational living: can old and young live under the same roof?

For my sake, I hope the answer is yes. But the common consensus of those around me, some of whom are already housing their old, is that it’s not something they would embark on if given half a choice. Those who do house their old do so out of a combination of obligation and necessity, which it should be noted, bring a fair deal of resentment. When I have conversations about the trials and travails of multigenerational living, no coaxing is needed for either young or old to open up to me about what the difficulties are: a loss of privacy and independence, clashes of opinion due to differing generational views, both parties unable to reconcile themselves with the parent-child role reversal.

Call me crazy but I still want to live with my kids when I grow old. That’s why HRH and I are “old-age proofing” our home; planning a single-level floor  with corridors  and a bathroom wide enough for walkers, wheelchairs and the like.  The kids, in 30 years time adults, will have free reign of the other parts.

“It’s well and good to want to live with your kids,” I hear you say, “But what about living with your parents?”

Mother and I may have only spoken once in the last 6 months (we had a tiff over some of her “life choices”) but if she showed up at my door tomorrow, I’d have no hesitation taking her in. That’s not because I’ve some martyr-complex or latent masochistic tendencies but because when all is said and done, she’s my mother and I couldn’t let her be old and homeless (even if I deeply disapprove of her “life choices”) any more than HRH allow his father go hungry just because the latter is a die-hard gambler.

Regardless of whether one is care-giver or care-recipient, independent and able-bodied or decrepit and enfeebled, co-existence  will always call for compromise. For example, my mother would like to be housed in a separate dwelling, built to her standard (read: concrete with attached bathrooms and air conditioning) but I can only provide a 90 year old semi-inhabitable (my friend SJ says it sounds like I live in the Viet refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur) wooden box. Obviously I see merit in my choice – it’s inner city location and zoning to the best public high school in Brisbane are lost on someone who lives in Malaysia, for whom wood is synonymous with primitive housing for the not-necessarily backward but impoverished, whereas in my suburb, it’s the result of the city council’s decision to maintain the historic look and feel of the area.

What’s important, you will glean from this is the need for both parties to be as flexible and negotiable in their approach to living together as is possible. While I  would like to accomodate  Mother in the dwelling of her choice, my duty as a parent to provide the best educational opportunity I can for my children MUST trump this.

On a day-to-day basis, young and old should not take the other for granted; old parents don’t want to be unpaid maids to a place the size of Alcatraz or full-time babysitters to a brigade of brats any more than the young want to change their parents’ adult-diapers and babysit them 24/7 once infirmity sets in but life is such that there’s a time to reap and a time to sow.

My time to sow is now. So that it comes as no surprise to the kids, I’ve been telling them daily of my intention for us, the parents, to live with them, the kids. Amanda says it’s all she’s ever wanted and I believe her – she still tries to sneak into my bed every night. In the now-immortal words of my whitey mate F, I should “just get a huge one bedroom apartment” since the 4 of us enjoy being within arm’s length of each other.

“But marriage calls for compromise Amanda,” advises HRH. “Your husband might not like living with your parents.”

” Then I’ll dump him,” she says.

” You’ve got to tell him that we’re a package deal.”

Perhaps, it will be my house he’s living in. In the future, a house in my location will be wildly expensive. It’s already beyond the reach of many young double-income households. Which is not the point. I live for my kids. I’m amenable to most things except being separated from them. I sleep with them, bathe with them, toilet with them, share the food in my bowl with them. I don’t trust others to care for them as well as I do.

But I understand that they have a need for company other than mine and thus maintain an open-door-policy with their friends: as long as their friends are respectful of me and are law-abiding, responsible persons, they will always be welcome in our house. It matters  not whether they are LGBT, agnostic, atheist, purple unicorns or bridge-dwelling trolls. Lest it be said that I am overly-accepting, it is my kids and their judgement that I trust, not that of outsiders. If I can’t trust their judgement, which may some day be called upon to decide whether I live or die, then I must  surely have failed my parental duty in some way. If that is the case then I am better off in a nursing home somewhere.