The recent confirmation that Marian Robinson, mother-in-law to President-Elect Barack Obama, will join the First Family in the White House spotlights the multigenerational family in America. According to Generations United- a national organization focused solely on improving the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies– there were 3.9 million multigenerational family households in the United States, representing approximately 4% of all households. In 65% of these households, the grandparent is the householder and lives with their children and their grandchildren.
Though millions of American families include members across generations, this living arrangement has declined over the decades. Amy Goyer, VP of Grandparents.com, recalls “until America became a mobile society, it was quite common for grandparents to live with family members as they got older. My great-grandfather lived with my grandparents when my mom was young, because he was a widower and wasn’t interested in living alone.”
Now, many multigenerational families are formed when older loved ones combine with their children or other relatives for financial reasons. However, the First Family is proving that integrating the older generation with the younger also can benefit adult children and grandchildren: parents enjoy assistance in childcare and domestic duties while grandchildren are privileged with their grandparents’ attention and wisdom. Finally, for the senior, being closer to family allows them to reduce senior isolation, and proximity to more resources and caregivers.
President-elect Obama may be looking forward to a difficult first term, but, without a doubt, Marian Robinson’s presence in the White House and care for the Obama family will, without a doubt, at least let him worry about one less thing.