13 Truths About Multigenerational Living No One Talks About

13 Truths About Multigenerational Living No One Talks About

If you’re considering moving in with extended family, you’re not alone. The number of families residing in a multigenerational household in America has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, according to a recent study from Generations United. They estimate that 66.7 million adults ages 18 and older live with three or more generations of relatives. In recent years, prolonged unemployment, young adults home from shuttered colleges, and other pandemic-related life changes have resulted in even more multigenerational households.

The fact that this type of living arrangement is on the rise is not surprising when you consider the benefits, such as shared expenses, reduced loneliness, and help with childcare and eldercare. While living with extended family can offer both emotional and financial benefits, it can also come with some challenges—many of which might surprise you.

Family Bonding

Rosemary Ruela has firsthand experience living in a multigenerational household. After arriving in the U.S., Ruela’s paternal grandparents bought a house for their extended family until her parents could buy one of their own. Later, when her maternal grandfather died, the family opened their doors to her grandmother, who resided with them until her passing. Ruela says she feels fortunate they had that time with her grandmother. “She cooked for us, told us stories, sang us songs, and took care of my brother and me,” remembers Ruela.

Too Much Togetherness

While sharing a home can facilitate bonding, it can also be a bit “smothering,” says Ruela. Families that reside together will want to figure out how to enable privacy for all. Ideally, each generation could have their own zone, with a minimum of a personal bathroom and bedroom, or perhaps a private in-law suite. For instance, growing up, Ruela’s family each had their own floor of the home. When that’s not possible, consider adding pocket doors, or sliding barn doors (available on Amazon) or curtains for separation.

Plentiful Unsolicited Advice

Grandma thinks the little ones have too much screen time, and everyone thinks she needs to get out of the house more. Opinions are plentiful among different generations, but there’s no one right way to run a household or raise children. Setting emotional boundaries is just as crucial as creating physical ones.

Family members must come together to decide who’s responsible for what decisions and to communicate their needs and expectations. Agree to share opinions only when asked, especially when it comes to personal choices. Speak up early and clearly to avoid tension and hurt feelings later.

The psychological concept that may change how you process your emotions

The psychological concept that may change how you process your emotions

What if you were approached outside an insurance office by a cognitive scientist offering you $5 to answer this question: Can a beetle feel love?”

Your answer may depend on a constellation of influences.

You may think of the last time you squashed a beetle and felt bad about it. Or maybe, you think of the invasive beetle that’s infested your backyard. It may be a gut reaction: Of course beetles feel love. Of course they don’t.

Kara Weisman is part of a research team who asked people around the world this question, along with others like: Do ghosts get hungry? Are robots deserving of moral treatment?

When these answers are pooled, Weisman looks for patterns that inform similarities, and differences in our mental lives. A mental life consists of the thoughts, feelings, and intentions we attribute to others, animals, and inanimate objects. It’s a concept we employ to sort social and moral obligations.

In a study released in August in the journal Nature, Weisman and colleagues interviewed adults and children living across the United States, Ghana, Thailand, China, and the South Pacific island country of Vanuatu. The interview subjects overwhelmingly conceptualize a mind-body distinction within the framework of mental life. This is sometimes called “mind-body dualism” and it refers to thinking of cognitive abilities as different from bodily sensations.

But the research team also came across significant differences in the way people across the world categorize socio-emotional capabilities.

These differences, the scientists say, may “lead different groups of people to different conclusions about human nature, about why humans do bad things and how society should react, whether to fear or embrace artificial intelligence, and how to interact with any supernatural beings we believe to exist.”

The differences in cultural ideas also offer opportunities, Weisman tells me.

How the discovery was made — This study was part of Stanford University’s Mind and Spirit Project, an academic collaboration that combines the disciplines of anthropology and experimental psychology.

It was an effort to “think about how people understand their minds and how that affects their spiritual and religious experiences,” Weisman explains.

It’s also an extension of the work Weisman was doing for her dissertation at the time. She’s interested in folk philosophy — how people process, explain, and predict the behavior of others.

“I was kind of steeped in these sorts of classical questions and trying to figure out ways to understand how ordinary people, non-philosophers, think about the deep things,” she says.

While conducting preliminary research in the United States, Weisman realized seemingly simple, and purposefully child-like questions (“do chickens ever feel sad?”) allowed her to probe the heavy topics without having to ask intimidating questions about the relationship between the mind and body.

“We can use those kinds of lightweight, easy-breezy answers to infer these deeper philosophical ideas that I’m interested in,” she says of her method.

This work informed the “bottom-up approach” the team took to the study. When interviewing U.S. adults, the responses were grouped into three categories:

Effects of marital dispute, divorce on children

Effects of marital dispute, divorce on children

Few would dispute that the different relationships that exist within a family affect the other members of the family as well. The most important relationship in this dynamic is that of parents and its effect on children. The quality of these relationships can affect children’s emotional, cognitive and physical development and can imprint on their mental health as an adult as well.

No relationship is free from turmoil. Conflicts and turmoil help individuals build and grow their relationships. It is a mistake to believe that children are unaware when parents argue behind closed bedroom doors. Children are more receptive to their parents’ emotions than we give them credit for.

Marital dispute or conflict has various dimensions that can determine the kind of effect it can create on the children like frequency, intensity, content, and resolution. Cummings classified marital conflicts as destructive and constructive. Constructive arguments involve a healthy argument between parents that ends in a resolution of the matter.

While constructive arguments can benefit children in learning conflict resolution, destructive conflicts can expose the child to further problematic parental interactions.

Destructive arguments consist of verbal aggression like name-calling, insults, threats of abandonment or physical aggression like hitting and pushing, or silent tactics like avoidance or sulking and withdrawing. When parental conflicts are such, children are collateral damage as they threaten the perceived intactness of the family. Conflicts that are hostile and heated can be overwhelming for children and being raised in such environments can impact their ability to form meaningful relationships and their belief in love and security.

From as early as the 1930s, researchers have recognized that disputes between parents have potentially debilitating effects on children’s development. While most children are exposed to periodic conflicts, intense, frequent, and poorly resolved conflicts are indicated to be very harmful.

A child continuously learns from their environment ever since birth. They learn most from their parents and their relationships. They undergo various physical, social, and emotional changes in life that are dependent on the nature of the relationships that surround them.

Marital conflict is a significant source of stress for children of all ages. These influences can be direct or indirect eliciting unhealthy internalized or externalized behavior in children.

Research indicates that during infancy, exposure to distress can result in hampered physical growth and psycho-social withdrawal. Young children may express fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness by displaying overt behavior like being non-compliant or being aggressive in school and among peers. They may also have trouble sleeping and communicating their feelings to their parents and act socially withdrawn. Conflicts during adolescence can result in decreased self-esteem, isolation, and delinquency.

Children often feel emotionally insecure in the family when they see their parents arguing. As a result, they may act out, or […]

Not in the same boat

Not in the same boat

It has become almost trite to say that although we are all in the same storm, we are not in the same boat. Nonetheless, the papers in this special issue attest to the truth of this statement. Each paper provides a snapshot of how the parents and children on our planet are weathering this storm. When the pandemic struck, most research groups examining the emotional and cognitive well-being of children in face-to-face studies had to suspend their research. In every country, child developmental researchers pivoted to bring the science of child development to bear on how children and families were adjusting to the life-threatening nature of the virus and the economic and emotional threats posed by public health measures to contain and control it. The virus moved swiftly across the globe and so did the changes to children’s lives. No week was like the next as events rapidly changed. There was little time to spend carefully planning excellent studies. If as a field we were to capture the impact of this constantly changing beast, we needed to be in the field, yesterday. Consequently, like the first sentences of A Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of research, it was the worst of research. Child Development is far from the only journal pulling together research done on COVID-19 and its effects. Journal editors are culling through the reams of manuscripts on the pandemic generated in 2020 to identify those whose methods, results and conclusion deserve being in the archival literature.


While the pandemic has been hard on children, it has really been hard on their mothers and/or caregivers. Three of the papers in this special issue compared maternal depressive symptoms pre-pandemic to during the pandemic. The three samples were very different. One group was not only pregnant but were well-resourced, highly educated, and living in the United States (Gustafsson et al., 2021). One was of low to moderate income who were part of a food insecurity longitudinal study. These were also living in the United States (Steimle, Gassman-Pines, Johnson, Hines & Ryan, 2021). Finally, the third group was living in rural Bangladesh, some families had no income after the pandemic struck (Pitchik et al., 2021). Interestingly, while the first two groups showed an increase in depressive symptoms on average, the third group did not. While the first two groups showed not only a marked increase in depressive symptoms relative to pre-pandemic, they also showed a decline in these symptoms as the pandemic progressed, perhaps partly reflecting a reduction in uncertainty. For the first group of more highly resourced women, school closures demarcated the marked change in worry and depressive symptoms, while for the other two groups, increased symptoms were related to food insecurity combined with other material hardships. This is not surprising as poverty and maternal depression have long been observed to co-occur (Smith & Mazure, 2021). Another perhaps an unsurprising finding is that social support buffered the effects of the pandemic on maternal depression (Gustafsson et al., 2021). Indeed, social support is well known to reduce depressive symptoms among those experiencing significant hardship (Taylor, 2011).


One reason for concern about maternal mental health during the pandemic is that when the mental health of the mother or caregiver is impaired it often affects her children’s well-being. Studying the impact of material hardship, maternal depression and anxiety, and child functioning over the weeks and months of the pandemic, one group has written about the chain reaction of hardship (https://medium.com/rapid-ec-project/a-hardship-chain-reaction-3c3f3577b30). Several of the papers in this special issue also provide evidence that material hardship and lack of social support for mothers or caregivers is associated with a reduction in child well-being.


However, children are not passive entities on whom experience exerts its effects. It is common in research on negative life events to parse the events into those independent of the participant’s behavior and those to which the participant contributed. Certainly, a pandemic would be independent of the person’s behavior. However, in a number of the papers we see evidence that individual differences in self-regulation and prosocial orientation were important to both behavior and consequences during the pandemic.

Children with poorer self-regulatory skills and more behavior problems were found to experience more negative influences during the pandemic. In Eales et al. (2021), children with behavior problems engaged in more problematic media use during the pandemic. Hastings et al. (2021) found that among low-income families in Jordan, children who pre-pandemic scored more poorly on an executive function task, had families who were described as experiencing more negative changes in response to the pandemic.

What to Do When Your Kid Thinks You're Playing Favorites

What to Do When Your Kid Thinks You’re Playing Favorites

I wasn’t exactly surprised when, in the midst of a recent disagreement, my 11-year-old son expressed how upset he was by telling me that he believed I love his younger sister more than him. That’s a pretty common go-to move that most parents hear at some point, and I certainly remember breaking it out on at least a couple of occasions when I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted from my mom.

But after the obligatory, “Oh, that’s ridiculous!” that most parents probably reflexively reply with when faced with that familiar scenario, I thought about it again later. Is he right? Do I play favorites?

I obviously don’t love one of my children more than the other. But his sister and I do have more similar temperaments and senses of humor. Is it possible that I unknowingly send a message to him that I have a favorite child? And, if so, what can I do to fix it?

“Most of the time, when children say those things, almost always it is about attention, whether it’s emotional attention or physical attention,” says Loretta Rudd, project director, clinical associate professor, and program coordinator for child development and family studies at the University of Memphis.

The ramifications for not taking claims of favoritism seriously can cause a negative impact for kids later in life. Psychology Today points out that “disfavored children” can be at greater risk for depression, substance abuse, greater aggressiveness, or poor academic performance, among other things. Healthline also notes that the favoritism doesn’t necessarily even have to be real—simply perceiving that they are the least-favored child can lead to similar negative consequences later in life.

The good news is that, most of the time, parents can simply use healthy communication habits to help make favoritism accusations into teachable moments.

Explain how difference in age mean differences in responsibilities

One easy way differences in rules for siblings can start to manifest in accusations of favoritism is when an older child starts to get more privileges. Older kids may stay up later, have more freedom to talk with or see friends, get to watch shows or games with more mature themes, or get to do other activities with less stringent parental oversight.

When younger siblings take notice and believe parental bias or favoritism is the cause, it is important to explain the added responsibilities that typically go with those privileges.

“There are social norms, maybe, that the older child gets to first,” Rudd says. “So, they’re getting something the younger child isn’t. But if you can explain to them that, as they get there [developmentally], they’ll have the opportunity. You can’t promise them they’re going to get it, but just explaining that with privileges comes responsibility, and being really clear and up front [is best].”

Since younger kids are attention-driven, lessons about responsibility can be reinforced with them when they ask to do things. For example, saying that we can play a game or go for a bike ride after the kitchen is clean is a way to subtly teach them that sometimes fun or privileges require less fun tasks being handled first.

Why Is Play Good for Young Children?

A new study my colleagues and I just published (Gleason et al., 2021) provides insight into how play influences a child’s physiological development, specifically vagal tone.

Our studies overall examine the effects of our species’ developmental system, or evolved nest, on child and adult well-being (physiological, social, moral). Self-directed free play with others, especially others of multiple ages, is part of humanity’s evolved nest heritage. Other components of the evolved nest for young children that we are relating to well-being include breastfeeding, a welcoming social climate, positive touch and no negative touch, responsive care from several adult caregivers, nature immersion and connection, and routine healing practices.

In this study, we examined the effects of free play on vagal tone. Free play excludes organized sport activities or activities that adults direct. Instead, it refers to spontaneous, imaginative play that children invent together on the fly.

Animal studies show numerous effects of free play on neurobiological and social development. Over 1,200 genes are epigenetically (“turned on or off”) affected by play (Burghardt, 2005). In children, self-regulation systems are beneficially affected by play—delay of gratification (Cemore & Herwig, 2005) and emotion regulation (LaFreniere, 2011; Lindsey & Colwell, 2013). Executive functions are also facilitated by play (Thibodeau et al., 2016).

Our study was the first to examine and demonstrate the relation of play to adaptive physiology.

Adaptive physiological systems are part of a healthy personhood. Adaptive means that the body is able to adjust to the situation at hand—raising heart rate under challenge or decreasing heart rate when in a relaxing situation. Play facilitates the growth of an adaptive physiology.

We measured adaptive physiology with respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), the flexible responsiveness or adaptability of the vagus nerve (the 10th cranial nerve that innervates the major organs of the body). As part of the parasympathetic system, the vagus nerve inhibits the sympathetic nervous system’s threat-defensive systems (flight, fight, freeze). We refer to a vagus nerve response as “vagal tone.” Healthy vagal tone is associated with positive emotions and executive functions.

RSA is calculated by measuring how heart rate and breathing covary in situations of calm and situations of stress. Tonic vagal tone is measured at a single timepoint during relaxing situations, a baseline situation. Phasic vagal tone is measured across conditions—nonstressful to stressful and stressful back to nonstressful. Phasic vagal tone captures how adaptive the vagal tone of an individual is.

Our participants were mother-child dyads who were part of a longitudinal study. They came to the laboratory when the children were about five years old. There were 78 pairs with complete data.

To obtain a proxy for the children’s play experience generally, mothers completed a questionnaire about their child’s recent experience of the evolved nest (Evolved Developmental Niche Report; Narvaez et al., 2019). The play score was derived from two questions: In the past week, how much did the child play actively and freely with other children outside (play organized by the children; not organized activities)? and How much did the child play actively and freely with other children inside (play organized by the children, not organized activities and not passive watching).