Although nuclear families – two generations living under one roof – are commonplace in South Africa, the multigenerational household is on the rise.

According to Stats SA, 32,2% of South African households are multi-generational

While this is the norm amongst rural black communities, the trend is increasing amongst the urban white population – from 4% to 8% in the last decade.

While there has been an increase in older parents moving in with their adult children, there has also been an increase in adult children moving back into their parents’ home as a result of job shortages and the high cost of living.

Craig Torr, director of Crue Invest believes that while the socio, financial and relational benefits far outweigh the negatives, there are some guidelines to keep everyone on talking terms:

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While there has been an increase in older parents moving in with their adult children, there has also been an increase in adult children moving back into their parents’ home as a result of job shortages and the high cost of living

Reasons for the increase in multi-generation households:

  • Both parents need to work full time, creating time pressure. Resident grandparents alleviate the financial and emotional strain of having to outsource child transport, after care, au pairing, homework, meal preparation, etc.
  • The high cost of childcare and au pairing are causing time-poor, cash-strapped parents to make use of their aged parents – which in turn provides the aged parents with a sense of purpose and a secure lifestyle in their old age.
  • The high cost of retirement homes and frail care, as well as a shortage of good retirement homes, makes multi-generational living cost-effective and convenient – a win-win for all three generations if the ground rules are clear (and adhered to!).
  • The high cost of living for all generations – adult children, parents and grandparents.

How to make it work

  • Engage with a financial planner to prepare a multi-generational financial plan. The financial planner should assess the financial position of the aged parents and the adult children, and will build a workable succession plan that prioritises everyone’s needs. Understand your aged parents’ finances so that there are no surprises later on. What happens if they run out of money?
  • Ensure that all legal and tax planning issues are taken care of, especially if there is joint property ownership involved.

Lay down the ground rules before the generations share a home

  • For example when grandparents live in a granny flat on the property, it may be wise to draft a joint family budget which is proportionately based: if the cottage is 20% of the property, the grandparents could cover 20% of bond/rental payments and utility bills, if of course, they can afford it. Agree upfront on who pays for what.
  • Make sure everyone has their own private space, and respect this.
  • Discuss financial matters with your other siblings. What happens if you need to pay for private nursing or frail care?
  • Ensure that everyone has chores and that duties are shared out equally.
  • Respect each other’s time.
  • If grandparents are expected to look after young children, they will need time off, and there might be a financial arrangement that is reached for them to fulfill these family duties.
  • Ensure that the children know their parents are still the primary caregivers and should make all decisions regarding the children.
  • Ensure that both partners are happy with the multi-generational living arrangement.
  • Make time for your spouse away from children and grandchildren.
  • Keep the lines of communication open to prevent issues from erupting at a later stage.

Pros and cons

Pros of multi-generational homes

  • Shared expenses and cost of living
  • Multi-generational living enables three generations to spend more time together, and build strong family relationships
  • Children are cared for by grandparents
  • Grandparents enjoy fulfilment and renewed purpose
  • Children do not need aftercare
  • Alleviates financial and time pressures for parents
  • Provides additional security as there are always people at home
  • Grandparents can assist with meals and the running of the home, which reduces pressure on working parents
  • Grandparents can supervise homework, assist with projects, do grocery shopping, etc
  • Adult children have peace of mind that their parents are being properly cared for
  • Share fixed costs such as rent, electricity and water, and rates. If finances are pooled, a more comfortable home is available to all the residents.

Cons of multi-generational homes

  • Can cause family conflict if ground rules aren’t established and adhered to
  • Interference in the business of the nuclear family
  • Can cause tension if the finances are not managed property. It is best to agree on all financial issues in advance upfront
  • There is less privacy for everyone
  • Unless everyone helps with household chores, some family members could feel taken advantage of
  • If one or both of the aged parents falls ill, this could place pressure on the adult children