Monday, September 6, 2010

Retiring into an Extended Family—or Leaving Room for One

The latest Ad Age (August 23) has an article on the “explosion in multigenerational households” in the U.S. It cites a Pew Research Center report on the trend. It seems that one in five adults 65 and older now lives in a household with three or more generations. (Yes, you read correctly. One in five, three or more generations.)

My husband and I never had children and we lost our fathers and mothers about 27 and 15 years ago, respectively. (In an odd coincidence, our fathers died about a year apart and our mothers as well.) As a result, we have no expectations of ever being part of a sandwich household. The multiG HH trend has been described as a “return to normal,” that being the way we lived in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly normal, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be proven demographically.

My husband and I are most certainly destined to remain a one generation household. I doubt if I’d qualify as a surrogate grandmother. I have no parenting skills and a sense of humor that skates dangerously close to the edge of “rated R.” I can’t imagine my niece and her husband inviting us to live with them, no matter how desperate they might be for a babysitter or a dog walker. My husband is lovable to a fault, so he wouldn’t be a problem. But it just wouldn’t do for a Burlington, Vermont police officer to share a roof with a retired aunt who behaves like she’s still one of “the guys” in the high school band. No, a multigenerational household is definitely not in my future.

I’m always one to look for a glass-half-full perspective on things. The Ad Age article gave me an idea on how to market our current house next spring. Our third floor will now be “in-law quarters with a separate bath,” (lifted directly from the article.) The recently renovated room in the basement can be the teenagers’ hangout or an exercise room (half bath right there, because… well, you know.) We’ll have it set up as his-and-hers office space with a treadmill in one corner. This is based on the almost certainly mistaken notion that after I retire, I’ll exercise more. This is especially unlikely when there will be a computer nearby, sending out the siren call, “Your blog awaits. Post now! Post now!”

The truth is, our house has always been far too big for us. It’s a rollover from the one I had in a New Jersey suburb for Manhattan executives, back before the tax laws were changed. When I remarried and relocated to be with my husband, I got far too much space for the same money in Rhode Island. But for a multigenerational family, our big old house just might be the perfect fit. All I need to do now is find one. “Hello, Pew Research Center?”

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