Grandfamilies make a comeback | Opinion

By Dorothy Dworkin

Special to the Sun Sentinel

Oct 08, 2021 10:59 AM

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Dorothy Dworkin

Dorothy Dworkin (Dorothy Dworkin / Courtesy)

I grew up in a mixed-generation home, although my family never used that term to describe our living arrangements. Our situation was not very different from many of the others in my 1940s Brooklyn neighborhood. There was grandma, mother’s widowed Russian immigrant mother, and Aunt Miriam who lived with grandma in the front room of our apartment. My mother, dad and I lived in the rear. After a while, my baby sister completed the household and it remained that way until Aunt Miriam married her returning soldier boyfriend. Grandma died shortly thereafter.

Although grandma did household chores, especially ethnic cooking, the main child-rearing responsibilities fell to my stay-at-home mother. Perhaps if she had worked outside of the house things would have been different, as they are for so many of today’s mixed-generation households. Grandparents, or grandfamilies, of necessity are raising their grandchildren. Sometimes the reason is work-related (parents’ jobs). Other times health (mental or physical) or parenting issues (neglect or abuse) are the reason.

The arrangement is not new but the pandemic has brought it to national attention. Housing developers are stepping up to meet the need for alternative housing options for older Americans who are becoming primary caregivers for young children. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives are considering the “Grandfamily Housing Act” to create a national pilot program designed to expand grandfamily housing. There are already about 19 housing programs in the United States focused on intergenerational housing needs.

Roughly 2.7 million children are in grandfamily homes as some parents are unable to care for their children.  Older Americans (mostly female) who planned for a different sort of retirement life are often becoming caretakers and in need of economic, social and mental health services to contend with the change in their original retiree plans.

While multigeneration households fell out of favor after World War II, they have returned but sometimes for different reasons. In recent years, many young adults have also returned to the family home. They left their childhood homes to pursue schooling, adventure and careers away from the homes they grew up in. They are back and are known as the “boomerang kids.” We know why.

The pandemic and the economic fallout that ensued resulted in the return of millions of young adults living with parents and/or grandparents. Rent, job changes and living expenses propelled them back from independent living. By 2019 about 25 million 18- to 34-year-olds were living with parents. There are reasons besides COVID-19 that have caused the shift. People are marrying later. Some are choosing to become single parents with all the help needs that ensue in that lifestyle decision. More young people are extending their educations with graduate and professional schooling.

There may be an upside to this swing back to mixed-age homes, a shift toward stronger intergenerational bonds with more frequent contact, guidance and emotional support from parents. Another benefit is more closeness between the generations. The pandemic interrupted life as it was but it will return one day,  probably changed, and maybe that will be a positive outcome. It will be interesting to see. Stay tuned.

Dorothy Dworkin is a freelance writer and writing teacher in Boynton Beach.

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