~ Discovering Your Family's Past To Shape Your Future ~
In one of my clients’ cases, the grandmother lived with her son, his wife and their 9 children in Russia long before she was incapable of supporting herself. In fact, she supported the entire family for several years as the sole income earner before they emigrated. This style of multi-generational household is not uncommon in much of the world.
In the United States, however, multi-generational households were not the norm even during colonial times. Pretty much as soon as a couple got married, they were encouraged to get a home of their own, even if it was just next door. In fact, census records are replete with examples of newlywed and young couples living next to their parents, elder siblings, or other family.
The most common mixing of generations in families we see historically in the U.S. is parents, once they are too old to care for themselves, living with their adult children. We sometimes see nephews and nieces living with aunts and uncles when one or both parents die or are ill for extended periods. We find grandchildren living with grandparents in similar circumstance. Sometimes, we even see one parent and children living with a great uncle. But these are accommodations made in extremis, not the standard household composition.
Why? Well, perhaps it was the independent spirit of those who immigrated, or maybe the effort of eeking out a living in the new world demanded that everyone strike out on their own as soon as possible. Or perhaps it was the cultural work ethic the settlers brought with them that demanded everyone take care of themselves (not all of them were Pilgrims, mind you!). I don’t know – I’d love to hear your ideas as to why.