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In Kids & Family

Thousdans of Milwaukee children live with their grandparents.

Multi-generational households work for Milwaukee families


According to the 2010 Census Bureau, 4.4 million U.S. homes had three generations or more under one roof, a 15 percent increase from 3.8 million households two years earlier.

"I would expect Milwaukee to follow national patterns," says Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Department of City Development.

The Census Bureau for Milwaukee reveals that about 12,000 grandparents live with their grandchildren and recent city developments suggests that local, multi-generational households are on the rise.

Many newer, low-income houses and apartment complexes are designed with more bedrooms. The recently-developed Villard Square is marketed as "grandfamily housing," acknowledging the number of grandparents living with their grandchildren.

"Our new Westlawn redevelopment has a senior-designated building of one bedroom apartments within a larger community of family homes," says Paul Williams, communications coordinator for the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. "We believe this will allow some families and grandparents to live in closer proximity to each other. We strive for that in all of our family neighborhoods."

Multi-generational households are spanning demographics, in part, due to challenging economy, job loss and / or decreased services for the elderly.

Jim Houck lives in Wauwatosa, and has seen an increase in multiple generations living under the same roof. He and his wife, Sue Puerner, have a 14-year-old son, Ozzy, and share their duplex with Puerner's mother.

Houck says on his corner, there are three houses now with grandparents, parents and kids all living together under one roof, in most cases, sharing a duplex.

"From what I've read, hard times have made sharing a house with a grandparent a sensible, if not necessary, move for a growing number of families," says Houck. "We also save money by pooling resources because we share the mortgage, utilities, taxes and the cost of repairs. And Grandma gets a live-in handyman and gardener."

The Houck / Puerner extended family shares meals about three times a week and Ozzy spends a lot of time with his grandmother, which pleases Houck.

"They spend one-on-one time together doing things like nothing or watching game shows. Ozzy gets to know what old people are like – they fall asleep when stationary and they don't hear well – and he gets a kind of expanded world-view at home," says Houck. "He gives back by helping Grandma with her iPad or her DVD player."

Having a live-in family member has also helped with child care costs. Houck's mother-in-law also helps take care of the cats – she adopted one of the three as her own – and spends time with the dog while the rest of the household is at work or school.

"I know that in many parts of the world, three generations under one roof is the norm. Adult children are obliged to care for their parents just as all are responsible for seeing to the survival and success of the clan's children," says Houck.

Until earlier this year, Cindy Eason lived in a side-by-side townhouse, also in Wauwatosa, with four generations of family members. Eason's mother passed away in March of 2012, but Eason, her husband, Bill, their daughter, son-in-law and grandson remain living together. Eason's other daughter lives on the same block.

"I like it," says Eason. "It provides a solid foundation for the grandchildren. We're all very close. I feel like my life has come full circle, living with my daughters again."

Eason and her husband are originally from Ohio, but moved to Milwaukee 12 years ago for Bob's job. Eason's daughters followed them to Milwaukee, and Eason retired from her career to provide care for her grandchildren who were then very young. (Today, they are 13, 11 and 8).

She says living with, or very close to, family takes consideration. Although the family members usually get along well, there are challenging moments. Eason strives to find the balance between being involved in her kids' lives, but not overly involved.

"When you live so close to family, you learn pretty quickly what not to do," says Eason.

Talkbacks

watchdog | Oct. 31, 2012 at 9:59 p.m. (report)

Well thought out article; thanks for posting the advantages as well as the disadvantages.

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