My husband, Maung, and I share our three-bedroom, one-bath home with our two young sons, Nathan and Nevin; my sister Patricia, 36; my father, Saw Lincoln, who is 62, and my 89-year-old grandmother, Minerva. It’s crowded, but it works.
I was born in Burma and am a Karen, one of seven major ethnic groups that live in Burma. I have lived in the United States for 18 years and, for the most part, our family lives a typical American lifestyle. At the same time, we also hold onto important Burmese traditions, such as caring for relatives and living together for mutual support.
Tradition certainly plays a major role in why we have four generations living under one roof, but today’s economy plays a big role, as well. My husband, sister, and I are fortunate to work full-time, yet we still live paycheck to paycheck.
Living together has a lot of advantages. My grandmother is in good health, as is my father. They both are able to help out when my sons are sick or home from school. And my father often stands in if my husband or I can’t make a school event or if the kids need a ride somewhere. My sister cares for them, too, when she’s at home. I’m not sure how we’d make it if we had to pay for after-school care.
All of the adults share expenses, such as groceries, so that eases the financial burden somewhat. But the real advantage to living together is that we can help care for and support each other. When someone needs help, we all pitch in.
In many ways, we’re no different from other families trying to cope with an uncertain economy. We have our financial and generational challenges. And living with so many people under one roof can create tension at times. But love makes it work. You just can’t buy a grandparent’s caring, attention, and support. My kids love their great grandmother and their grandfather. And my sister is so attached to my sons—and they to her.
To other extended families who are thinking of living together, I’d offer this advice: Have understanding and patience when living with different generations. Everyone will have to sacrifice some privacy and freedom. But what you get in return can’t be measured in dollars, and it’s worth the small sacrifices you make.