I’m partial to multigenerational households because I grew up in one, in Oregon. My mom’s parents lived nearby and then moved in with us. And my father grew up in Ghana, where multigenerational households were the norm.
My husband grew up in North Carolina, also in a multigenerational household. So when we had our first child it seemed entirely natural for my mom to move in and help us. We were living in New York, both of us working, and to have Mom anchoring at home was a great gift, and still is. She has always been a loving presence in our children’s lives.
Now our roles within the family are shifting. Mom has cancer, and although it’s under control, her chemo and radiation treatments have caused a severe loss of mobility. So she’s in a wheelchair most of the time. That hasn’t stopped her. For example, she has always been a wonderful cook, but now she needs some help. And our children – Rebecca is 15, Andrew is 12 – are helping.
My kids are lucky. They have four living grandparents and other relatives within reach who can mentor them. And I enjoy the wisdom of the elders. They understand how stressed today’s students – and parents! – can be, and they help us to remember what matters, which is making time for each other, and helping each other.
We’re obviously living through a time of great financial stress for millions of families. About eight years ago, after moving from the Ford Foundation to the Aspen Institute, I started the Initiative on Financial Security to try to advance the goal of improving household financial security for lower-income families. First we have to protect what’s already in place – especially Social Security and Medicare. They’re foundational. And we have to move beyond the narrow confines of today’s political debates, which create so much fear that these bedrock economic security programs may not be there tomorrow. We have to get fear off the table.
To read more multigenerational family stories and to see how they are faring in this tough environment, download the executive summary or full report of our signature report Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy.