Multi-generational living. Awesome or terrible idea?

Families have been living together since the dawn of humankind, creating a support system where members rely on each other for food gathering, resource sharing and child rearing. The rumah panjang in Borneo and the tulou walled villages in China perfectly illustrate the concept of extended families and multiple generations living together in a community. Where once was the norm, the family unit in modern times has broken into more individualistic subsets with only two generations living under one roof or solo living as a sign of independence.

Even so, the concept of multi-generational living isn’t uncommon, especially in Asia. In a culture rooted in familial duty and family togetherness, one can still see a family unit comprising grandparents, parents, grandchildren and extended relatives all in the same compound.

The awesome part

Good help is not only hard to find but it costs an arm and a leg these days. Babysitters and nannies for young children, and caregivers for the elderly – there are serious financial demands involved when it comes to reputable daycare centres and nursing homes.

In the words of Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to raise a child, and in this case, to look after elderly relatives too. When several generations of a family decide to live together, the responsibility to look after more vulnerable members is shared. This creates a more nurturing environment for children to grow up in and a more loving surrounding for the senior citizens of the house.

A research by Oxford University has shown that teenagers are happier when grandparents are involved in their upbringing. This in turn has a positive effect on the elderly too. They learn to embrace technology and social media through their grandchildren, and are able to live a more sociable life and are less prone to depression.

Multi-generational living makes financial sense because family members can pool together their resources. They save money on groceries, utility bills, commuting and household amenities. A singular internet subscription is enough for the entire household instead of having different accounts for different families, and cooking is done in bulk, allowing savings on gas or electricity bills and shopping cost.

In an era where green living is the buzzword, a University College London research has revealed that singles living alone create more wastage than a group of people staying together. A single-person household consumes more energy, land and household goods, and as such, puts more pressure on the environment. So, multi-generational living not only saves money, it also helps save the environment.

The not-so awesome bits

Any situation where a number of occupants live together is bound to give rise to issues involving privacy and personal space. The frustration is fuelled by domestic dramas like bathroom queues in the morning and the lack of peace and quiet.

Throw in overbearing older relatives and emo teenagers getting in your face every day, and it is a recipe for disaster. Being in too close a proximity to each other can also affect families negatively, especially when certain members try to influence the lifestyle of others, and as such, testing patience and tolerance.

Creative ways of living together

In recent years, housing trends have learned to creatively address the grievances of multi-generational living. To allow for personal space for its occupants, a concept like “one-home-two-entrances” have been gaining traction.

Whether it is homeowners renovating their properties or developers introducing new real estates, the idea of a main home area being connected to a private quarter, each with its own private entrances; or a housing floorplan divided into separate independent spaces (upstairs-downstairs, or left-right-sides) with two different entrances, is enjoying a surge in popularity.

And why not? Multi-generational living proves to have more pros than cons, and a life less solitary with generations connecting with and looking out for each other is an awesome way of living together as one big happy family.