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'Harmoney' in the family
Multigenerational households won't offer perfection, but rather opportunities for emotional richness.
Families and finances

Spotlight: Ruth Nemzoff

What is the best way to handle money requests from adult children, and when is it OK to say no?

In many families, if the child is doing everything that is responsible and still is not finding a job or getting into school but is volunteering in order to build his/her resume, you may want to say yes to requests. While each family has its own views of what constitutes a good faith effort and what is appropriate preparation for adulthood, it's important to listen to the views of other families -- and to those of our children -- in order to understand the many perspectives of how one crafts a life.

If the child has a salary, certainly they should pay all their own expenses. Part of being an adult is making value judgments about money. Adults differ on what they value, but parents can suggest and share their experiences (and their regrets) as well as their wise decisions. Parents might even learn something from their children's perspectives. 

How difficult was it to juggle family responsibilities while you were working as a college professor and state legislator?
It was always difficult to juggle family and work. I was fortunate that my husband earned a good living. Even so, combining work and family is very stressful and that is why whatever support the generations can give to each other is so important. We need each other for birth, for death and for all the crises in between. Having relationships with parents in which they are willing to help out in stressful times is important. Parents are more likely to help if they feel loved and appreciated and are given some leeway to follow their instincts.

Under what conditions is it better for aging parents to live with adult children rather than be placed in a special care facility?

Again, it depends on the family. In many foreign cultures and some American cultures, the expectation is that parents will live with adult children. Finances and community resources all play into this decision, as do personalities of the generations. There really are no rules.

Why do you think Americans are so cool to the idea of intergenerational households?

One thing that makes an intergenerational household work is when the rules are clear. In most societies where there is an intergenerational household, the kids follow the parents' rules. We're a society that is much more into independence and generally don't want to give that up to follow someone else's rules.

If you are looking for perfection and a smooth ride, do not live together. If you are looking for love and emotional richness, you might find it in an intergenerational family.

-- Posted: June 8, 2009
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