LIVING

Three-Generation Homes Aren't Easy For Millennials Caught Between Cultures

But they're becoming more common in Canada.

08/24/2017 12:43 EDT | Updated 10/17/2017 11:18 EDT

HuffPost Canada

My mom has always told me she could never live with her mother as an adult, yet somehow she was convinced that moving across the entire country to live with my grandmother — her mother-in-law — was a good idea.

To be fair, she and my dad made the decision to move from Whitby, Ont. to Vancouver, B.C. after my paternal grandfather passed away last year. The decision was made partly because they wanted to help take care of my grandmother, and partly because they wanted to save money.

Isabelle Khoo
My parents, sister and paternal grandmother taking a selfie.

This lifestyle change would have been easy enough for my parents if it was just the two of them — but it wasn't. My parents also took my 13-year-old sister across the country with them, turning their new living arrangements into a three-generation home.

My family didn't anticipate the challenges they would inevitably face, such as privacy issues, (countless) misunderstandings and a whole new family dynamic. One struggle, for instance, is the unspoken obligation they feel to ask my grandmother permission before moving anything around the house — her house.

My grandmother and I in 2016.

And while my grandmother is happy to have other people around, she also feels unspoken pressures. "When I was alone I only had to cook for myself. But since having the extra family, the cooking, shopping and cleaning increased, and some days I feel it's too much for me," she told me. "I realize I don't have to cook for anyone if I don't want to, but I feel bad because [my daughter-in-law] works some days until 7 p.m."

But despite the natural challenges that come with living in a three-gen home, Dr. Shimi Kang, psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Parent, says this is actually how families were meant to live.

"It's the way we have been socialized to live," she explained to HuffPost Canada. "Throughout human history, humans have lived in close groups and families, with different generations living and working and caring for each other, together."

Isabelle Khoo
Candid photo of my parents, sister and paternal grandmother in Whitby, Ont.

Kang is referring to the fact that multigenerational homes have been around since society's hunter-gatherer days, where families joined together with other clusters to survive.

But despite its long history, three-generation homes might seem like a new concept to some because nuclear households are considered the norm in the Western world. In the 1950s and '60s, the idea of the nuclear family — meaning a married (heterosexual) couple living with their children — exploded, and it became expected for kids to move out of their parents' house after reaching a certain age.

We don't grow up thinking we're going to live with our parents, but actually, many cultures do all around the world.

As a result, "we're not really socialized" in North America to live in a three-gen home, Kang explained. "We don't grow up thinking we're going to live with our parents, but actually, many cultures do all around the world."

Although nuclear families make up the majority of households in Canada and the U.S., statistics show that the number of multigenerational homes in both countries are on the rise.

In Canada, specifically, three-gen homes have become the fastest growing type of household, with 2.2 million Canadians living in this set-up in 2016, Statistics Canada reports. In comparison, there were 1.3 million who lived in multigenerational homes in 2011 and 930,000 in 2001.

IMDB
The Villanueva family on "Jane the Virgin."

In addition to this rapid growth, we're seeing examples of these families crop up more frequently in pop culture, such as in TV shows like "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Jane the Virgin."

But while this type of household is becoming more common once again, they aren't always the easiest arrangement to live with, especially if you're the third generation — the one growing up between cultures.

Conquering the generational divide

One of the most obvious challenges of living in a three-gen home is dealing with the generational gap. Right off the bat, my sister knew this would be the toughest adjustment for her.

"I knew it was going to be hard living with somebody much older than me, because I'm used to living with Mom and Dad, but not with my grandparents," Tara said.

Isabelle Khoo
My 13-year-old sister Tara and my paternal grandmother.

There are also "differences in the things we like and different personalities" in the home, she noted, which can lead to misunderstandings. One of the most common for her is when our grandmother mistakes Tara's quiet demeanor for rudeness, when in reality, my sister is just an introvert and likes to keep to herself.

Expectations are different because of the way we were brought up.

Since my grandmother was raised in what she calls an "old-fashioned" way, where a lot of emphasis was put on manners and how you present yourself, it makes sense that she would make this assumption. However, her old-school way of thinking has not only caused some challenges for my sister, but for my mother as well.

"Expectations are different because of the way we were brought up," my mom explained. She gave the example of how she doesn't expect my sister to help with chores around the house, but my grandmother — her mother-in-law — does.

Isabelle Khoo
My mom (in white), her sisters (on her left) and my paternal grandmother (right).

"My mom used to tell me when you're grown up and have your own family, then you have to do chores, like help wash and dry the dishes," my mom said of how she was raised. "[My mother's] mentality was, when you're young you don't have to do this kind of stuff. When the time comes, you will, and that's how I see it too."

My grandmother, on the other hand, expects my sister to pitch in with household chores — as well as outwardly express gratitude and appreciation — which Tara now does, without complaint.

I look at things in a more Western way, but I can see how [my mother-in-law] would view the younger generation as too carefree.

"I'm more open, even though I'm very Chinese," my mom said of the generational differences. "I look at things in a more Western way, but I can see how [my mother-in-law] would view the younger generation as too carefree."

It's common for conflicts to arise when cultural traditions clash with the Canadian way of life. Lynda Ashbourne, a family therapist and associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained this phenomenon to CTV.

"There are culturally constructed roles" for every member of the family, she said in 2013. "What becomes more challenging is if you've grown up in a culture or family that really kind of privileges or honours the idea of independence and self-sufficiency."

What becomes more challenging is if you've grown up in a culture or family that really kind of privileges or honours the idea of independence and self-sufficiency.

Sivi Pradeepan, from Whitby, Ont., can relate to this culture-clash struggle when it comes to living in a multigenerational home.

The 22-year-old grew up in a full house, which included her mom, dad, maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother. She moved out while she attended Ottawa's Carleton University, but moved back home with her mother and maternal grandmother shortly after.

Sivi Pradeepan
Sivi Pradeepan with her maternal grandparents and cousin.

Since Pradeepan comes from a family of immigrants, but was born and raised in Canada, she often has cultural disagreements with her family members, despite them being "a little more flexible" compared to other Sri Lankan families.

Her tattoos, piercings and ever-changing hair colour, for instance, have always triggered disapproval from her mother and grandmother. And when it comes to dating, Pradeepan has always felt pressures.

"There's not much freedom to date when you're younger than marrying age, but a lot of pressure to get married as soon as you reach it," she explained.

Losing a sense of autonomy in the home

Not feeling like a grown-up has also been another big challenge for Pradeepan while living at home.

"Living in a three-generation home can sometimes strip you of your 'adulthood,'" she said. "Doesn't matter how grown up you are age-wise, you're still the baby."

Sivi Pradeepan
Pradeepan with her parents and paternal grandmother.

Ashley Gallego knows this feeling all too well, despite being a parent herself.

The 27-year-old, who is also from Whitby, lives in a house with her seven-year-old daughter Janae, her parents, and her 29-year-old sister.

"Seeing all my friends I went to elementary school and high school with are living on their own, married with or without kids, it's hard to see that knowing my situation. That I'm still at home and raising my daughter," she explained.

Gallego never moved out of her parents' home because when she became pregnant, she and her daughter's father couldn't afford their own place, so they decided to continue living separately.

Ashley Gallego
Ashley Gallego and her daughter, Janae.

While Gallego appreciates all the help her parents give her when it comes to her daughter, such as providing extra child care, she says she still struggles to feel like a grown-up because she's "relying on them for a lot."

This isn't surprising, considering a U.K. study from 2015 found that relying on parents in some capacity is the No. 1 reason many millennials don't feel like adults. Additionally, 64 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed said that buying their first home is what would make them feel like a grown-up.

One in three young adults in Canada still live with at least one parent.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, which is likely why one in three young adults in Canada still live with at least one parent, according to a 2016 census. This number has been increasing since 2001, when 30.6 per cent of young adults lived with their parents, Statistics Canada reports. Today, that number is 34.7 per cent.

According to Jeffrey G. Reitz, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, this increase could be due to a number of factors, such as "rising housing costs, increased labour market entry difficulties, [and] possible increased dependency among recent generations."

The easiest way to achieve [a sense of autonomy] is to have a serious sit-down conversation with parents and grandparents to lay out all concerns.

As a result, young adults living at home feel the need to gain a sense of autonomy. Kang says the easiest way to achieve this is to have a serious sit-down conversation with parents and grandparents to lay out all concerns about living at home, openly and honestly.

"Lay it on the line and say, 'I know you care about me and want the best for me, however, unlike when I was living with you before when I was growing up, this is what I'm hoping will be different,'" Kang advised.

Challenges vs. benefits

While not feeling like an adult is a downside for grown-up children living in a three-gen home, the trade-off can be extremely rewarding.

"There's definitely benefits of the multigenerational family – pooling finances, pooling childcare, pooling household responsibilities, having a support system built-in, all of that," Kang said.

But she also noted that power structure, clear communication, personal space, and issues of privacy and respect are among the other big challenges for multigenerational families.

"So the key is really balancing those pros and cons," she said.

This can be particularly tough for families who have more than one parent in the home. Gallego, for instance, says her whole family dynamic changed as soon as she became a mom herself.

"Different parenting styles between my parents and myself lead to arguments," she explained. "[It feels] like I'm co-parenting with my parents, when I'm the mother of my daughter. Sometimes I feel like I have to remind them I'm Janae's mom."

Ashley Gallego
Gallego and her daughter.

Additionally, Gallego said living in a multigenerational home has affected her parenting because, just like any grandparent, her mom and dad love to spoil her daughter. "Being in that environment 24/7" is a challenge, she said.

"I feel like I have to say 'no' a lot 'cause my parents may be in a financial state to give my daughter whatever she wants, when she wants it, but how I think is, what happens when we move out?" she continued. "I don't want Janae to get used to getting whatever she wants when she wants it because, realistically, I may not be in the financial position to do so."

Ashley Gallego
Gallego's daughter and mother.

According to Kang, this is very common in three-generation homes, and even she has experienced this issue living with her three kids and their grandparents.

"I can't try to change 75-year-old people who are set in their ways," Kang said of own her experience. "The way I manage it is I have to be very clear with my children that Grandma or Grandpa are a bit lenient, and we understand that, but as your parent, I still set the rules and I don't want you taking advantage of that."

I can't try to change 75-year-old people who are set in their ways.

Similarly, Gallego sets boundaries by having a lot of sit-down conversations with her parents. However, she said living in a three-gen home can still be hard mentally, "especially when there are so many different opinions in the household."

To cope, Gallego gives herself mental daily reminders, such as, "I am Janae's mom" and "You are doing your best," because she recognizes that in the end, her family is only trying to help.

Isabelle Khoo
My mom and my sister on vacation in Mexico this year.

My sister agrees that living in a three-gen home can be mentally straining as well. Now that she's living under the same roof as my parents and grandmother, she said, "It's like having a third parent." As a result, she turns to music as a way to cope.

Accepting multigenerational homes as a way of life in Canada

If there are so many challenges when it comes to multigenerational homes, then how do families learn to live together?

According to Kang, a person's mindset going into a three-gen home is what will make it a successful living arrangement. "If you can try to train your mind and try to really focus on the benefits versus the drawbacks, then it can be a really great powerful thing and more in tune with how children have been raised and families have lived," she said.

If you can try to train your mind and try to really focus on the benefits versus the drawbacks, then it can be a really great powerful thing.

Both Gallego and Pradeepan take this approach. While they both recognize the drawbacks of their living arrangement, they know it's for the better.

When asked how she feels about living in a multigenerational home, Gallego said, "Grateful. I have a lot of support and help with my daughter, especially since the type of job I have, [where the] hours are not your typical nine-to-five Monday to Friday, would be difficult to find child care for."

Sivi Pradeepan
Pradeepan and her parents.

Pradeepan agreed, admitting, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

However, Pradeepan is in a unique situation in that she grew up in this type of household and, as she pointed out, it's part of her Sri Lankan culture. "Almost everyone I know from a similar heritage has lived in a three-generation home at some point," she said.

Gallego's mom agreed, saying that for their family, it just made sense: "We've done it in the Philippines all the time, so this is normal. It almost feels as if it's tradition."

Additionally, the fact that multigenerational homes are on the rise is a signal that the world is becoming "more globally diverse," Kang said.

As Canada, in particular, is getting more multicultural, we see [multigenerational homes] are becoming a norm.

"As Canada, in particular, is getting more multicultural, we see [multigenerational homes] are becoming a norm, not just for financial reasons, but as we see more immigration and as we see more connection to cultural identity and people not necessarily assimilating," she continued.

Professor Reitz agrees. "The fact that the rise is greater for immigrants may be for several possible reasons, including traditional household patterns in the countries of origin, and worry about possible isolation of parents who come to Canada under family re-unification, but do not have their own friends in Canada," he told HuffPost Canada via email.

Sivi Pradeepan
Pradeepan and her paternal grandmother.

For Pradeepan, her favourite thing about living in a three-gen home is "having the opportunity to get to know my grandparents and our family history better. In the Tamil culture, there isn't a traceable last name as it changes with each generation, so tracking your genealogy is next to impossible."

If the trend of multigenerational homes in Canada continues to grow, Reitz says, "over time, the pattern would merge with the Canadian norm."

Three-gen homes aren't for everyone

Despite the many benefits of living in a three-gen home, Kang noted that they aren't for everyone, and that's OK. "It's a very personal decision," she said. "And just because it works for one person, doesn't mean it'll work for another."

Just because it works for one person, doesn't mean it'll work for another.

For my family, their new living arrangement doesn't quite feel normal, yet.

"If I had the choice, I'd rather live in my own space," my mom said. "But I think that feeling is in general, like if I asked you, do you want to live with your own family or with your mother-in-law, I'd rather just live with my own family."

Isabelle Khoo
My parents, sisters, paternal grandmother and I with my dad's side of the family in Vancouver, B.C.

But despite this, she recognizes the overwhelming positives of living in Vancouver, one being that my grandmother is no longer alone, which my mom believes is better for my grandmother's mental health, and another being that my parents and sister get to be closer to my dad's side of the family in B.C. after so many years being close to my mom's side in Ontario.

Tara also admitted that she's still adjusting. "I love eating together with my whole family every night," she said, "but I'm still getting used to this lifestyle."

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. If you have a story you want to share to be featured on Born and Raised, please email us at bornandraised@huffingtonpost.com.

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