Imagine being newly married, ready to start a new chapter with your spouse.
Although you’ve lived at home all your life, you’re excited by the prospect of newfound independence.
You collect your things, pack your boxes and say your goodbyes to your family. Hand in hand you head outside, turn the corner to the backyard, walk down the stairs to the basement suite and open the door to your brand new life.
This scene has replayed in my head constantly. I’m not married yet, but soon will be, and can’t help but feel conflicted over the idea of being married yet continuing to live at home.
Vancouver’s housing unaffordability has kept me locked into my parents’ rent-free shelter. But Western views have taught me that moving out is a measure of maturity and adulthood.
This relentless push and pull is exacerbated with the prospect of marriage, as I now have to figure out a new living arrangement to accommodate my soon-to-be husband.
Do we stay at home with my parents or move in with his, and face the stigma of never branching out on our own? Or do we move out and enter the financially daunting world of the unaffordable housing market? Two equally difficult choices, it seemed.
But recently I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve realized that living with parents or in-laws after marriage doesn’t have to be shrouded in the stigma of dependence.
The financial benefits alone are huge. Saving on rent, no (or lower) daycare costs should we have children, and even the prospect of home ownership becomes imaginable, albeit through a joint family title.
Don’t get me wrong: this arrangement isn’t for everyone. But it helps that my future in-laws are non-traditional East Indian parents, whose modern day views are relatable to my own. When they aren’t vacationing in Las Vegas, they’re at home enjoying a patio BBQ with the family, both of which I look forward to becoming a part of.
Research shows us that there are many social and health benefits to living in large familial settings. Multigenerational family living promotes responsibility, a sense of community and vitality. For example, a senior’s need for support and connection — an ongoing issue with today’s aging population — is addressed when generations live together.
Family bonds intensify a sense of community in multigenerational homes. I like to think of it as a micro-community, built on support that happens to come from being with family rather than in a commune or cooperative of unrelated individuals.
So why isn’t the fiscal greatness of living with your parents, coupled with the benefits of communal living, enough to keep us at home?
Partly, the physical layout of most homes doesn’t lend itself to multigenerational living.
When you’re living in a moderately sized home with several people, the need for space becomes overwhelming. It may be lack of privacy that amplifies the desire of young adults to move out.
Parents may offer a basement suite to their children, often after they’ve married. But moving downstairs has its drawbacks. Relationships shift, sometimes into a landlord-renter mode that creates new family tensions.
Current housing designs are built to support nuclear families. But when it comes to housing larger family units, there’s either a lack of overall space or fractured space with a main house and basement suite divide.
We need less rigid arrangements, preferably ones that include both private and shared spaces. For example, one Moroccan model called riad, Arabic for garden, involves stand-alone homes facing a shared courtyard — a common middle ground for all.
Those changes won’t be easy. Municipalities will have to rethink zoning, developers and lenders will have to come up with new approaches and we’ll need to rethink our concepts of home ownership.
But with a bit of imagination, we should be able to find a balance between autonomy and connectivity, removing the stigma of multigenerational living.