What Are We Learning From The New Multigenerational Household?
One of the biggest work-from-home challenges in 2020 that continues today is parents struggling with their day jobs while caring for young children. With two school-aged children attending class online while my husband and I are fortunate enough to continue working from home, I understand that considerable challenge on a daily basis.
There’s another enormous work-from-home shift that deserves a closer look: in record numbers, people of all generations are living and working together. Consider this finding from the Pew Research Center: the majority of young adults ages 18 to 29 now live with their parents. This is unprecedented in recent history. At the end of the Great Depression, another era that forced adult children back home, 48% of young adults lived in their childhood homes. According to Pew’s research, 52% of them now do.
That’s a lot of boomeranging young adults! Many returned back home when their colleges temporarily closed their campuses. Others returned to the nest when they lost jobs as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy. And, some young adults are doing their former office jobs from mom and dad’s house.
That means that millions of us are suddenly living (and sometimes working) under the same roof with people of all ages: small children, young adults, thirty-somethings, middle-agers, and older adults. While this is how households functioned for eons and are still common in many cultures, it’s not the typical American approach, where independence is often equated with success in many families. Multigenerational living has even been viewed as a negative, something to suffer through until somebody (finally!) moves out.
Multigenerational to Multibeneficial
But there is a different truth about this familial WeWork and a more nuanced picture of multigenerational cohabitation: living and working alongside our children or parents can benefit everyone.
I have a friend whose recent college graduate son helped her redesign a beautiful website that she can use to attract new clients to her at-home business. Conversely, that same parent was able to counsel her adult son on writing an effective cover letter and resume, and how to persevere when he wasn’t getting hired right away.
“We’ve had time together in a way we didn’t when he was in college,” she told me. “Our relationship has changed so that we can both teach each other valuable skills.” In the same vein, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher had essentially never been online before. Suddenly, because of the pandemic, she was being asked to teach online. Her teenaged son taught her the tech tools she needed within a matter of weeks.
In my own household, I’ve seen enormous skills that the older, and younger, people in my household have taught one another. A couple of months into the pandemic, I was exceedingly fortunate to have my in-laws come to live with us and help out. They came to our family’s rescue when we were trying to adjust to working from home and helping our two young children attend school remotely. Not only did they help with schoolwork and meals and take the kids out to play, but I learned different ways to parent and raise children from them on a daily basis.
Udemy instructor Deborah Grayson Riegel shared with me that she has also experienced the impact of multi-generational living, with her son moving home after his university canceled all dorm contracts for the winter semester. Originally considering a job in retail, Deborah and her husband — both leadership coaches — suggested he use this opportunity to experiment with his interests and passions.
To help him, they used the same questions they use with leaders they coach: What gets you out of bed in the morning? If money weren’t a concern, what would you be doing? Their son’s answer was “politics and government.” They encouraged him to use this time to test out his hypothesis that this was a career path worth considering — and (like they would with clients they coach) held him accountable for taking the steps necessary to turn this idea into action. Within three weeks, he had landed a full-time internship with a state senator.
I am also getting the chance to mentor my own children, simply by the fact that we are living and working together. When my 6-year-old daughter finishes her online school in the late afternoon, she’ll come into my office and watch closely. She’s getting to really see what I do during the day. Often enough, I’m talking and laughing with my colleagues via Zoom, and she’s getting a different perspective on what working looks like. She is seeing that work can be fun and that a working mother isn’t just someone who picks up her kids after practice at 5:30, rushing them home for homework, dinner, and bed, only to repeat the very next day.
Given that Udemy is founded on the values of lifelong learning and the innumerable skills others have to teach us, I am heartened by my own recent experience. My own family members are teaching and learning from each other. In the most literal sense, multigenerational living has given new meaning to family time for me. During a time of global uncertainty and political unrest, it’s also been an important time for families to process together and offer a support network to each other.
Post-pandemic, the world will hopefully be a different place, one with more economic stability for individuals globally. As we all return to something closer to “normal,” my hope is that these experiences living and working together taught us how much we can really learn from each other and how to look at every situation as a learning opportunity.
Want to learn how other innovative People leaders are reimagining the workplace? Check out Fast Forward 2021: Why the Future of Work Needs to Be Meaningful to find out what companies like Airbnb and Salesforce are doing.
A version of this article was originally published in Forbes on January 14, 2021.