We’re pleased to have the opportunity to share what’s inside our book with you. Click on the tabs below to view some short excerpts from our book. Links to longer excerpts in PDF format are provided as well.
- Why This Book is for You
- A Pleasant Reality
- Grandchildren See Benefits
- Case Study
- Accessory Apartments
Part I – Seeing Your Future
1. Dodging the Nursing Home
2. Two Decades of Change for American Families Have Already Begun
Part II – The Benefits
3. Why Living Together Again Makes Sense
4. Stories about Caregiving – Benefits for the Young and Old
5. Stories about Grand Relationships
Part III – The Practicalities
6. Deciding to Live Together: Inventive Negotiations
7. Proximity and Privacy: Living Together in Helpful Ways
8. Other Times, Other Places
9. Designing and Remodeling Your Home for Privacy
10. How to Find, Buy, or Build Housing
11. Making Your Home Accessible to Seniors
Part IV – The Challenges
12. Overcoming Cultural Stigmas: Four Curses and a Blessing
13. Financial and Legal Considerations
14. Making Agreements for Living Together
Excerpt 1: pages 8-9
Why This Book is for You
We expect the typical reader of this book to be a member of the postwar baby boom generation, aged fifty to sixty-five or so. Folks already into their sixties and seventies will find immediate use for this book as well. Or perhaps you’re one of their kids. We’re going to address our comments mostly to the older folks facing retirement during the next ten years or so. But for you sons and daughters of baby boomers, there’s much here too.
Our cousin Lee in Nebraska, born in 1940, is fond of describing all the trouble baby boomers have caused America over the years. He should know: his younger brother was born in 1946. According to Lee, first it was bikes.Come Christmas 1951 there was a big bicycle shortage in the country. Then it was classrooms and teachers, including not enough seats in colleges around the country beginning in 1963. By 1965 there weren’t enough entry level jobs to go around. About 1972, as the first baby boomers started families, there weren’t enough houses.2 Baby boomers thinking about retirement drove the late-1990s stock market run-up—there was a shortage of good investments. And, of course, now there is a shortage of retirement and pension funds.
Perhaps the best metric for this problem is to compare the number of births in the United States over three periods. About forty million kids were born in the United States between 1931 and 1945. The postwar baby boom (1946–1960) was fifty-eight million strong—a 45 percent increase! Thereafter, births fell to fifty-five million between 1961 and 1975.
Our cousin Lee was right, America has never done a good job of handling those fifty-eight million kids and the incredible demand of their numbers. And now our retirement system, designed for the 1930–1945 cohort, faces the boomer onslaught. Indeed, you can already see some of the key systems beginning to fail. Most recently, baby boomers’ pension funds, retirement accounts, and housing values deflated during the so-called Great Recession. Consequently, boomers are en mass keeping their jobs longer and thus adding to the country’s unemployment problem as younger workers are in effect locked out. Everybody knows Social Security and Medicare will dissolve circa 2020. The private pension funds were beginning to creak even before the disaster of 2008–2009.
If you think the nursing home you visited today is a place you want to stay out of, wait until you see the 2020 version. Who will build enough of them? Who will staff them? Who will pay for them? And with the new medical technologies, we’ll all live longer. Rather than dying from diseases, baby boomers will just wear down and wither away. The demographics make the future easy to see, and our future is different, far different, from the retirement our parents are experiencing right now.
Excerpt 2: pages 32-33
A Pleasant Reality
So far this chapter has mostly been about unpleasant realities. We’ve written about depressing developments, from disabilities to disconnectedness to debts and death. We do hope you managed to bring a little levity into the discourse with The Gods Must Be Crazy. And, of course, our brother Steve’s good humor helped. But, overall, our wake-up call so far has been more a dirge than dance. So we want to end this chapter with a happy story about three generations of Americans living together. We do recognize that living with kids, parents, and grandparents all in one house isn’t exactly Mary Poppins. But the approach we advocate in this book not only can work, it is working!
Our story starts with a two-word question: “A toaster?” Now we all know that whenever a male is involved in gift giving, things don’t always go as planned. So when Madeline opened her Christmas present from her son, Jim, his wife, Christine, and their daughter, Katie, the meaning didn’t sink in right away. Madeline was wondering why the family was buying another toaster? All four of them had been living together now for three years, and their toaster always worked just fine. Madeline’s wrinkled brow betrayed her befuddlement.
Christine noticed first and urged her to open “part two” of the package. Then everything became clear. Inside part two were the blueprints of Madeline’s cottage, to be built on their property in the spring. They had all met with builders and looked at different kinds of apartments to get ideas in the weeks before. And Madeline would need a toaster in her new house across the yard since it would have a kitchen of its own. Now we’ll let the family members tell the rest of the story in their own words:
Madeline: Jim and Christine moved here in July three years ago and I came out a month later. We had long, long conversations before I came out here. I was living in Florida alone and working. I was then seventy-two years old. They were coming to a strange place. Christine traveled a lot in her work, Jim some. In California they had had excellent day-care facilities for Katie. Katie was starting first grade. So they discussed with me the cost of me coming out to live with them, hoping that it would be a win-win situation for everybody. So that Katie would have a constant in her life. And they were busy with work and it would be the same person there when she got home from school every day. It would relieve me from having to work—I had injured my back at that time. So it was a big decision for everybody. The key for me is that I was invited. At that time I felt like I was in a position where I could give back something and that I was still able to help. So I did live in the house with them for three years, until I moved into my own house.
Christine: That was kind of the plan all along. We tried to recover financiall from the move from California first. We had talked about building a place for Madeline on the property. But we didn’t want to commit to her, to get her hopes up—in case financially we couldn’t. That’s why we wanted that acreage so that we would have room to expand.
Jim: When we looked for the house, we looked for a one-story house that had a master suite on one side and bedrooms on the other. That way there would be enough room for it to be comfortable for people. You know, in case someone had to move in with us, like my mother or my dad or her parents, we wanted to provide a facility without having to go up and down stairs. Also, we knew at some point we were going to have to either provide more financial help for my mom or bring her to live with us. It worked for her to come live with us and help with Katie. We were already paying the house payment and utilities, so it wasn’t a big issue compared to getting extra help for us from someone else. It allows Christine and me both to work and keep our lifestyle.
Excerpt 3: pages 64-65
Grandchildren See Benefits
We found evidence of mutuality across all the interviews we did with grandchildren. In one instance, a nine-year-old talked about how fortunate she is to have her grandmother living in a cottage in the backyard. They live in a small town in Georgia, and both her parents travel with their work. Julie said, “If my mom is going away, and my dad is going away the same day, then I’ll spend the night at my grandma’s. That way, I don’t have to deal with a babysitter.” When asked if she saw anything else as a benefit to being near Grandma, she replied, “Since she’s so close, we don’t have to wait until a vacation to see her.” Certainly, Julie’s comments argue in favor of the proximity dividend.
In another case, a nine-year-old grandson talked about the benefits he receives from both of his grandparents living in a cottage in the backyard. Peter lives in a residential community in Northern California, where his mother is a homemaker and his father is a general contractor. When asked to give examples of what he did with his grandparents, he responded, “After school I go over there and they help me do homework. I have snacks and stuff. We also watch TV and play card games.” In addition, he said they worked in the household garden together, growing “flowers, carrots, pumpkins, and squash.” Of course, as a result of this interaction, the chances are good that Peter will have his own garden when he grows up.
Further testimony that grandchildren see benefits came from an interview with three teenage sisters. It was their father who, in 1996, approached his in-laws about the idea of buying a place together. In his case, his family with three young children needed more space and wanted a swimming pool. In turn, his wife’s parents were tired of taking care of their big house. It made perfect sense to all of them to combine financial resources and buy a place together in a small residential town in Northern California. For several years now the maternal grandparents have lived in a guesthouse behind the swimming pool in the backyard. In separate interviews with the grandparents, the parents, and the grandchildren, I (Sharon) learned that the living arrangement has worked beautifully for all of them.
The granddaughters told wonderful stories about how they have profited by living so close to their grandparents. They talked about getting help with homework, learning about values and family history, being driven places, attending sport events, and receiving advice on shopping. In addition, they mentioned the importance of a strong family connection as a deterrent to negative behavior. They also gave accounts of the downside of being nearby. They talked about noise issues, such as having to be quiet in the hot tub at night, being interrupted when doing homework on the computer in the family room, and having to introduce a boyfriend to four adults, instead of two parents. Here is what they had to say about their “grand” relationships.
Sharon: Have you heard of other people participating in a living arrangement similar to the one you have with your grandparents?
Kristine (age fifteen): I don’t have very many friends who have that situation. When I mention it to them, they go, “Oh, that’s so cool that your grandparents live with you.” Because their grandparents live far away or in another part of the country.
Sharon: What do you like about your housing situation?
Margaret (age thirteen): It’s really cool because if you need something like sugar, you can walk over and get some. But, like, if we have any questions that our parents can’t answer, they just tell us to go over and ask Grandpa. So we just go and talk to him.
Sharon: Do you have a specific example of a question?
Catherine (age seventeen): Yes. Grandpa knows a lot about our family history. So with him being a lot older, I want to make sure that we get the real story now. I’ll ask him, “How did Great Uncle Ralph get here?” I have a little tape
recorder that I’ve used to tape our conversations. He’s a great storyteller. I’m just passionate about learning about our family’s history and also American history. I don’t know if I would be interested in history if it wasn’t for him.
Excerpt 4: pages 70 – 71
In Another Case
In another case, a fitness instructor shares a house with her husband, his daughter, and his daughter’s three children. The daughter has a separate apartment downstairs and they live upstairs. Dorrie spoke to us about the advantages she has experienced from this type of living arrangement.
Dorrie: I think some of the benefits of their living with us is that we’ve gotten closer to the kids than we would have if they were living someplace else. Not having had children myself—you know Denise is my stepdaughter — I was dropped into being a grandmother. So for me it has been certainly more experience with young children than I’d had before. That is advantageous, I do believe, for me. For both of us, I think that having young children around helps keep us young and gives us a different perspective on life. You know, we’re at a certain point where we wouldn’t reach out to that younger generation otherwise. You just kind of get into your routine. I think that is a real advantage for us and helps keep us current in the world and in a more youthful culture.
Indeed, grandchildren can provide their grandparents with opportunities to be curious about nature, to be excited about life, and to be playful. As Michael Prichard says, “You don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing.”
We interviewed another grandmother who lives in a house across the street from her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons in a small residential community in Northern California. She tells wonderful stories about the interaction between her pet turtle and her grandsons, as well as a special trip to the zoo.
Sharon: Do you have any special activities that you enjoy doing with your grandsons?
Jean: Well, we have a couple of things. I ended up adopting a turtle a few years ago. He came to visit me, and I ended up saving his life because he was trying to cross the street. I didn’t know what I was going to do with him, but I went and got some grass and put him in our backyard. Now he is our pet turtle, and the boys just love to come over and see him. We have named him Ernie. Ernie goes into hibernation in August and the boys know we can’t find him from August until around Easter time. So they start asking in February, “Is Ernie back?” They like to come over and feed Ernie dandelions, and it’s really fun. It’s a very unusual thing. Ernie has been with me now for almost three years.
Sharon: Have you bought any books on turtles?
Jean: Yes. This particular turtle is called a redneck slider. The boys and I didn’t know what he ate, so we went to the pet store and got some turtle food, which was terribly expensive. Then by mistake one day, one of my little ones gave him a dandelion and we found out that he loves dandelions. Now we don’t need to buy the expensive turtle food. Also, right now, outside my kitchen window, I have a bird in a bird’s nest. The oldest boy comes over and checks the bird in the nest every day. So I’ve got nature close by.
View the entire excerpt in PDF format.
Excerpt 4: pages 107 – 109
Suitable for one or two people, an accessory apartment is a self-contained dwelling, usually installed in the surplus space of a so-called single-family home. It can also be a detached building or a portable unit on the same property. Minimally, it features an outside entrance, a bedroom, a bathroom, and some form of kitchen. In addition, some units may have a living room and an outside patio or deck. At most, an accessory apartment shares an entrance, a yard, and parking with the primary residential unit. It is subordinate to the host home in size and appearance, often invisible from the street. There are many other names for this type of housing, including accessory dwelling unit, granny flat, sonny flat, in-law apartment, guest suite, cottage, lifecycle unit, second unit, studio apartment, bonus unit, casita, carriage unit, ohana, and efficiency apartment.
The accessory apartment is one of the most versatile types of housing. It can offer homeowners a good investment with a healthy rate of return; furnish housing for family members, especially elderly parents; provide flexible living space for adult children or grandchildren, a nanny, a home office, a tenant, or caregivers of the elderly; and improve security in the home. This flexibility provides a tremendous advantage to household structure. In our society, which values both community and privacy but provides few choices between those two extremes, the accessory apartment allows an extended family to live together and apart at the same time.
One Southern California woman has realized these benefits. Susan is divorced and lives in a small residential community. Several years ago, she came up with a novel way to age-in-place with a multigenerational living arrangement that utilizes a remodeled garage on the same property as her house. At first, she used this accessory apartment as a rental to supplement her income. Then she allowed her daughter and son-in-law to live in the unit while they both worked on their graduate degrees and subsequently established their careers. After they started their family, Susan traded places wit them. While she had the apartment remodeled, she lived in the big house with her daughter and family and found it difficult. She said, “When you’re sharing a house with four bedrooms, and you’re in one of them and the kids are using the others, it’s hard. But by the time I moved out to the apartment, it was much better. I’m very separated in the sense that I don’t even hear the grandkids crying during the night.” Here’s a story she shared that underscores the benefits of separate living quarters:
Susan: By the way, I just became aware that my daughter’s mother-in-law is expecting her own daughter and husband, and their three little boys, to come and stay with her. They now live in Arizona but are moving out here. She was looking forward to sharing space with them for a couple of weeks, then they were going to either rent or buy a place. She’s just discovered that they’re not planning to buy a house here until the house in Arizona has been sold. Meantime, all the kids will be living with her and her new husband. She is suddenly much more bothered than I thought she would be. It’s going to be awfully crowded in her three-bedroom house. Actually, it’s four bedrooms, but her husband uses one of them as an office, and he works at home a lot.
Someone said to me, “Oh, she’s all upset, and she’s really just going to have what you have.” And I said, “Oh, no, not at all. We don’t share the same roof. I don’t hear them wake up. I can go home to my little place and do exactly what I want, play my music loud at night.” It just reminded me of the extent of that difference. I mean, my kids can walk over and visit me. That’s lovely. But the separation, even sound-wise, I think is quite important.
In another instance, a childless couple has come up with an inventive way to make use of the downstairs accessory apartment at their beach house in Northern California. They loan it out as free vacation housing for their “extended family” of school teachers. Here’s Dan’s story of how and why they choose to do so:
Sharon: What led you to offer your unit to school teachers as free vacation housing?
Dan: We have a friend who is a retired local school teacher who lives nearby. We also know another teacher who lives in Los Angeles and stays with us when she comes to visit her brother, who lives in a studio apartment close to us. She typically brings a school teacher friend of hers because our unit is really big enough for two people to stay in comfortably. After we got these three teachers together, they became a circle of friends. Then, among my clients, I have quite a few school teachers, and a lot of them are single. A couple of them are divorced and have children. Since their children would be with their fathers on the weekends, they would have an opportunity to get away. However, they don’t have the money to spend on something like that.