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Five ways to survive a three-generation household

Jove Breeze, Clare Badham, Rob Breeze and Roy and Oriel Simpson, Image copyright other

Multigenerational homes are expected to become more common over the next decade. So what's it like to have grandparents, parents and children living under the same roof?

Clare Badham, 53, shares her home with partner Rob Breeze, 45, 13-year-old son Jove - and her parents, Roy and Oriel Simpson, aged 84 and 83 respectively.

This set-up might not be for everyone, but it could be the model for more families in the future. Insurance company Aviva forecasts the number of households containing two or more families will rise from 1.5 million to 2.2 million by 2025.

The study also anticipates 3.8 million people aged between 21 and 34 will be living with their parents - a third more than at present.

Clare says their domestic arrangement means the three generations live in a "much nicer house" - a Victorian farmhouse by the coast in Sea Palling, Norfolk - than they would as separate family units. There's also the advantage of on-site child care and pooled living costs.

But there are potential downsides, too - lack of privacy, squabbling over money, everyone falling out. How does Clare's household make it work?

1. A room of one's own

One thing is absolutely crucial to making intergenerational living work, says Clare: "Make sure you have your own space and privacy."

Clare and Rob and Clare's parents each have a separate living room, reducing the scope for squabbles over what to watch on television.

Everyone shares a kitchen-dining area and eats meals together. The menfolk of the house use a bathroom on the ground floor while Clare and Oriel occupy another on the first floor. Clare and Rob sleep in the attic, where they also have an office, and her parents and Jove each have a first-floor bedroom.

Many would feel inhibited by the presence of their parents or in-laws in the marital home. Clare acknowledges there are downsides. "You feel less inclined to have friends over. It's not as easy," she says.

Space is at a premium, especially as Rob's sons from his first marriage, aged 19 and 20, often come to stay.

The trick, she says, is to make the most of it when her parents go away for the weekend or on holiday. Clare and Rob also make a point of going out on regular date nights - made easier by the presence of two on-site grandparent babysitters.

Image copyright other
Image caption The family live in a "much nicer house" than they would otherwise, Clare says

2. Don't bottle up your gripes

Although all four adults got on well, they had different attitudes to how the house should be run. "We were more untidy, they did more housework," says Clare.

And at first Clare often found herself caught in the middle. "Everyone was moaning - my partner was moaning to me about them and they were moaning to me about him."

The solution was to agree that everyone needed to be frank and upfront about any problems they might have.

"It's a very good idea to sit down every month to come together in case anyone's got anything to say, if there are any gripes," Clare says. "If you are going to say something, say it."

3. Agree your finances

Clare and Rob own one third of the property on a mortgage. Roy and Oriel own the remaining two thirds outright.

Because the older couple put more money in, they got the bigger lounge - Clare and Rob's is a former dining room.

A big advantage of the arrangement is sharing the cost of the council tax and bills. Roy, a retired manager in the publishing industry, is in charge of finances and plans an annual household budget to which all the adults contribute.

It's a relief to not have to worry about this, but there are disadvantages, says Clare. "One of the downsides is you feel you have relinquished your adulthood in a way," she adds.

But the arrangement has enriched the household in other ways, too. Her parents' ability to look after Jove has also allowed Clare, a yoga teacher, to work longer hours.

Stephen Burke, director of United for All Ages, says living together under one roof makes sense for three generations in many families: "But we do need more homes that give families the chance to share like this." In other words, they have to be big enough.

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Image caption Clare and Rob and Roy and Oriel have divided up the household duties

4. Divide up the the chores

There's a clear division of labour in the household, says Clare. "I do the shopping. My partner does the cooking. My parents do the housework."

Oriel also looks after the garden, and she and Roy do the washing up after communal meals.

Access to the washing machine is regulated, too. Clare's family usually do their laundry on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, while Roy and Oriel use it the rest of the week.

What Clare didn't foresee was that she would become the family's de facto chauffeur now her parents are no longer able to drive. "My work now is driving people to hospital, doctors, dentists, classes. That's something we didn't quite consider."

5. Make sure you get along

It's crucial that everyone is on friendly terms. Clare's partner, a high school teacher, is more sanguine about living with his in-laws than others might be.

"Rob is very laid back about it. I'm very lucky because not everyone would be," she says.

You need to have a certain type of personality to make the arrangement work, she says. "We're not really arguing types. There's never any shouting."

Clare believes it's vital to make sure everyone is compatible before moving in. "Spend time together before you take the plunge. Maybe go on holiday. You have to be very aware of the sort of characters you are."


Image copyright iStock

Will multigenerational living really take off?

Prof Sarah Harper, Oxford University Institute of Population Ageing

Adult children are taking longer to leave home. Part of that is we have the luxury to stay in education later. You can afford to stay at home later.

We are also seeing the sort of multigenerational living where my father died last year so my mother moves in with me.

What some people get confused about is the idea that you are going to have all these generations living together, but the gaps between the generations are getting bigger and that is outpacing longevity - in the past you had 20 years between the generations, now you have 30 years between the generations. This means it's harder to have all the generations together.

Social norms have changed. Houses that once had three generations living in them now have one. We have become more affluent. We have a welfare state that takes care of people.

Our housing market is not geared up for the multigenerational living we used to have. The kind of housing we are building is hopeless for multigenerational living - small and box-like.

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