After eight years of multigenerational living, the McGloughlin family has it down almost to a science. Amy McGloughlin and her mother-in-law Judy will both tell you that clear boundaries are the secret to a happy multigenerational household. (Well, that and giving Judy the biggest bedroom—with bay window, no less!)
“Both Amy and Charlie have a very good sense of boundaries and we’re clear on how to interact and live together comfortably,” says Judy. “I tend to be very sensitive, but when issues arise, Amy’s clear boundaries make them easy to resolve.”
For Charlie, the key is good communication, honesty, and responsibility. “You have to respect roles in the family, and you need to own your own role,” he explains. “That way when problems arise, you have a mechanism for working them out. If communication was poor, we’d have no way to resolve issues.”
Meanwhile, multigenerational living works for Will because having grandmom around means he has someone to play games with and to help with homework and other projects. He realized just how lucky he was when his class recently broke into discussion groups to talk about family. He was surprised to discover that most of his classmates had no living grandparents.
Reba know she’s lucky, as well. “A lot of my friends say their grandmothers are mean to them, but some have never seen any of their grandparents.”
So why did Judy move in with Amy and Charlie in the first place? “My parents had a large house and after my brother, sister and I moved out, the house was just getting too big for them to handle,” Charlie explains. “Amy and I thought we should get a bigger house where we could all live together and share expenses. It didn’t make sense to have two houses when one would do, and we love each other. Unfortunately, my father died before they could move in with us.”
“It’s been wonderful; I love being with family,” says Judy. “The Gray Panthers often espoused intergenerational living because of what you can learn and share. It’s a great experience and I credit Amy with making it all work.”
Amy—or Pastor Amy as she’s known by her congregants of the Germantown Mennonite Church—says that she and Judy “are different enough that it works out well. To live intergenerationally, you have to be ready to say the hard things. You need to name the problem and talk it through. The reality is, we’ve had to have some hard conversations. You have to have an understanding of your possessions. We have a ton of stories about sharing.”
Sharing is important—within boundaries. Judy does babysit and will drive the children around when needed, but she says that Charlie and Amy are careful not to take her for granted. She, in turn, is careful not to take them for granted. They share the cooking and the grocery bills, and Judy contributes to the mortgage.
But mostly what they share is a love of family. In fact, Charlie and Amy are thinking of moving to a bigger house and moving other family members in.
“In these economic times living together is a good idea,” says Charlie. “It makes a lot of sense spiritually and financially to live together. Living in separate houses is just a waste if you love each other.”