Happy together: Zoee Frakes and dog Ginger, Madi Oliver, Ralph Finkenbrink, Sandra McKenna, Kristel Oliver, and Betty McKenna. When Madi Oliver turned 8 a few weeks ago, her mom, sister, grandparents, and great-grandparents feasted on barbecue, crab legs, and a pink-frosted cake at a dinner table decked out in full Hello Kitty regalia. While some relatives have to travel 20—or even 2000—miles to be at a loved one’s party, all Madi’s family had to do was walk down the hall. After her parents separated four years ago, Madi, her 13-year-old sister, Zoee Frakes, and their mom, Kristel, 35, moved into Madi’s grandma’s house. Her great-grandparents moved in last fall after her great-grandfather, Ken, got sick. “It’s like The Waltons—and The Simpsons—around here,” jokes Madi’s grandmother, 53-year-old Sandra Mc-Kenna. Seven people now live in the four-bedroom Tampa, Fla., home that McKenna once shared with only her husband, Ralph Finkenbrink, 48. “It’s jam-packed and loving, and if you didn’t have a sense of humor you’d lose your mind,” Sandra says. It Takes a Village
Multigenerational living is on the rise. A recent AARP study found that 6.6 million U.S. households had at least three generations of family members in 2009—a whopping 30% increase since the 2000 census. More than a third of Coldwell Banker real-estate agents recently reported an uptick in buyers looking for homes to accommodate multiple generations, and 70% expect to see even greater demand in the year ahead.
The trend is fueled in part by the economy, with “baby boomerang” kids returning to the nest after college, along with 30- and 40-somethings who have lost their jobs or homes or both. But Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, sees an upside. “Parents and grandparents are like the National Guard—they’re called up to active duty when there’s a crisis,” he says. “But while families may be moving in together to save money, they’re discovering the advantages of shared child- and elder-care and an enriched family life.” In fact, the idea of the nuclear family—mom, dad, and kids living together in isolation—is only about 50 years old. “In the coming decade, Americans will understand that our love of independence is kind of silly,” predicts John Graham, an international-business professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the co-author of Together Again. Of the 6.7 billion people on the planet, he notes, about 6 billion live in extended-family arrangements. “Talking to Grandma on the phone is one thing,” Graham says. “But to be with her smelling the cookies she’s baking is even better for everyone’s psyche.”
Full House At Madi’s house, the delicious aroma of great-grandma Betty’s pot roast wafts from the kitchen. Mingling four generations of personalities and palates is a serious undertaking—Sandra wants vegetables, there’s meat for Ralph, cheese and yogurt for Kristel, and a special menu for 78-year-old Ken, who’s battling lung disease. Living together presents other challenges, too: Zoee regularly commandeers a bathroom to make phone calls, and, in desperation, Sandra once retreated to a closet for privacy. Lines can get blurred about who’s in charge. (“I shouldn’t have told Zoee to wear leggings with a certain dress to school; that’s not my business,” Sandra admits.)