Multi-Generation Living—Yesterday and Today
by Miralee Ferrell
In my new release, Blowing on Dandelions, we meet Katherine, a young widow with two children who runs a boardinghouse, which was considered a very honorable occupation for a single woman. Complications arise when Katherine’s mother unexpectedly arrives and announces she plans to stay permanently, since her older daughter has passed away and Mama has no desire to live alone. Besides, she’s certain she can help run the boardinghouse and raise the children, quite possibly even better than Katherine.
Life during the 1880’s was different in many ways, but as our economy is changing, things are becoming increasingly more similar. Over a hundred years ago, families stayed together—if not living in the same house, then often residing on adjoining land, or at least in the same town. It was expected that elderly parents, and sometimes even grandparents, might move in with the younger generation. In fact, quite often the children would continue to live with their parents well into their adult years, unless they married. Even then, it wasn’t all that unusual for young couples to live with one set of parents while setting aside enough money to build their own home.
Young women were expected to stay at home—it would have been a disgrace for an unmarried woman to live on her own unless she were a school teacher living in a house provided by the school board, or with another family. Being appropriately chaperoned at all times kept her reputation intact, and living alone would put that reputation in jeopardy.
Sons of farmers or ranchers were often given land of their own when they married and were encouraged to work alongside their fathers, while men who worked a trade generally taught that trade to their sons and passed the business to them when they retired.
All of that started to change during the early years of the industrial age, as well as during World War I when young women were needed to work in factories and young men went off to war. Women became more independent and often lived in boardinghouses together, sharing rooms and many times even a bed, no longer feeling the need for a chaperone, or the luxury of living at home.
As time passed, fewer and fewer families took in older family members. Instead, the elderly or infirm were placed in a nursing home or assisted living. Children were sent to college or a trade school then expected to make it on their own once they graduated.
The home as it was known in the 1880’s almost ceased to exist, and families were fragmented, scattered across the country as jobs displaced them to new areas.
Now, the tight economy and tough times are starting to swing the pendulum back the other direction, and I see that as having potential for good. Extended family is important, and children who are raised near healthy, responsible relatives grow up with a sense of connectedness and security.
Unfortunately, financial hardship brings a sense of guilt to some, or a sense of worthlessness that shouldn’t exist. Not everyone can afford to send a child to college or trade school and allow them to live on campus, even with student loans or scholarships—or they might not want their kids to be in that kind of debt. That’s how we felt, and our son concurred. He made the decision, after one semester living on campus, to move back home and attend a local community college. We were thrilled. Not only was it a responsible decision financially, but we loved having him at home.
Our daughter never cared about college, and she chose to leave a year or so after high school to work on a ranch. When the job ended, she moved back home to save money, as we only lived a few miles from her new place of employment. It was a blessing for her, and having her home another couple of years until she married was a time I’ll always treasure.
My paternal grandparents lived with us when I was young, and my maternal grandmother lived with us when I was in upper grade school. Grammie cared for me and my siblings so my mother could go to college and earn her teaching degree. It worked well for everyone, and we had five years of enjoying her as part of our family.
Assisted living is becoming more and more costly, and most elderly people don’t have the funds to choose that alternative. If they don’t have serious medical issues but simply need a little extra care, the option of moving in with a grown child might be the best approach. And why burden a young adult with increasingly larger school debt? Not that grown children should be handed everything or enabled if they refuse to work. When money was tight for our kids, they were still expected to pull their weight at home, even if they couldn’t contribute financially. When they could contribute, we expected them to do so.
Perhaps we should get over the idea that every young person who graduates or gets married requires a new car, two or three credit cards, and a nicer first home than their grandparents ever owned. There is nothing at all wrong with having a desire to better your life, and of course, not every family is able to take in an elderly parent or keep their kids at home. I’m not suggesting we allow grown children to live with us for years, as that wouldn’t be responsible, either. We all must do what works best for us, but our focus should be on viewing home in the way God designed it to be. A warm family unit, caring, supporting one another, loving when needs arise, and showing the respect to each person they deserve. If those things are taken care of, all the rest will fall into place.
Miralee Ferrell and her husband live in WA State. She loves hiking, horseback riding, working in her garden and playing with her dogs. She’s a multi-published, award-winning author with two contemporary women’s fiction, four historical romances, a four-book middle-grades set of horse novels under contract, and a new historical romance (the first in a three-book series) releasing June 1, Blowing on Dandelions, set in 1880, Baker City, Oregon.