I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string. ~ L.M. Montgomery
According to a 2015 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Trends Report, multigenerational living is on the rise in the USA. The number of multigenerational families living together has doubled since 1980.
The biggest reason for a multigenerational purchase, according to the NAR report, was cost savings. Although cost savings is definitely an outcome for many families we have met traveling the globe, we have found that multigenerational housing is a part of the cultural fabric in many countries.
For many of our relatives who immigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, cohabitation was natural and sustaining but faded over time once they put down roots on American soil.
In conversing with our Italian friends, it was hard to communicate what we meant by multigenerational housing because to them that is the definition of family and it transcends fancy terminology and real estate trending data. All of our Italian friends lived in multigenerational homes.
When we arrived in New Zealand after living in Hawaii for a while, we noticed a similar trend to what we experienced in many places in Europe. When talking to a friend in Hawaii about multigenerational housing, we learned that it was important in the Polynesian culture for children to be reared, not just by their parents, but their grandparents.
In New Zealand, we have been living with family. As any good American would, we worried about overstaying, stressed over pulling our weight and burdened ourselves with keeping out of the way. What we have learned from my sister’s husband and his family has given us a deeper understanding of this multigenerational concept.
Couples and their kids live with parents and grandparents. People work together and run businesses together, many times out of the multigenerational home. There is a gracious exchange and flow that can only come from an open door. All of the guilt we feel for cohabitation falls on deaf ears as people embrace our presence, extend a welcome and teach us, one day at a time, that we don’t have to go it alone.
Family reunions happen every day. Life spans increase with close familial ties and the responsibilities inherent in living together. I am not sure I have completely reprogrammed my beliefs about “imposing on others” or “moving out when you are 18”, but my experience tells me there is something really special in these cultures that is foundational.
We watched our kids make our nephew’s bottle before his nap today and then wait silently outside of his door for him to wake up for snuggles. We watched our daughter proudly walk the family dog down the beach this week beaming as if it were her own perfect pooch. We watched our brother-in-law play back yard cricket with our boys, teaching them knowledge of the game that only a true Kiwi could impart. We watched our son’s birthday party fill up with this new part of our family as if we have always celebrated together.
We know that anything less than this extended time together would not have produced the kind of unconditional familiarity that is slowly changing how we define family for generations to come.