Mum, I'm coming home

Living with parents can work, says GWENDA JOYCE-BROPHY
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A new era of communal living is upon us; increasing numbers of apparently sane and rational adults are actively choosing to set up home with their parents. "It started three or four years ago," says Michael Parry-Jones, at Brown's estate agency in Surrey. "A lot of the couples we get in now are looking for property with their parents."

Multi-generational households are not a new phenomenon, but in the past they were largely the result of necessity. This time around, however, it's different. "It is approached very positively and it's certainly not a matter of 'granny's got to come and live with us'," says Parry-Brown. Both parties tend to pay their way. "Grandparents often put up a sizeable chunk of the money," he says. "The benefits are that the couple get a bigger property than they could otherwise afford, and the grandparents live independently but securely in an attractive property."

Chris and Sue Frost live in a three-generational household with their three-year-old twins and Sue's mother, Alice, who sold her house in Lincolnshire and contributed to the property they all now share in Kent. One of the most challenging problems they faced was finding a property with enough space to offer the privacy and independence they knew they required to make a success of it.

"Initially we bought a Thirties bungalow, intending to extend it, but it was simply not financially viable," says Chris. "So we demolished it and built a house on the site. On one side there is a suite of ground- floor rooms for Alice."

The practical benefits are attractive for all concerned. "At a simple level there are obvious advantages in terms of babysitters," says Parry- Jones, "but at a deeper level, many couples feel it is nice for the children to be close to the grandparents."

For single-parent families the benefits are even more starkly apparent. Gill Hart is a single mother with a demanding marketing job and she now lives with her parents and four-year-old son. She sold her flat and they now all live in a large detached property.

"Extended family life offers me the opportunity to have it all," she says. And the disadvantages? "Well sometimes the words of the old Eagles song 'Every point of refuge has its price' ring true," she admits, but she insists that the benefits outweigh the negatives. "It makes economic sense, and it removes some major stress factors from my working life." She considers that having to live around each other is a benefit in itself. "Compromise is the order of the day," she says. "It makes everyone less selfish, especially the junior members."

And how about her parents? Don't they ever feel put upon? Edward Hart admits: "At 75, it can be tiring having a boisterous child around, but first time round I was doing the male skive thing so watching him grow up and develop has been a real plus."

Her family, like the Frosts, has chosen to live in an integrated environment rather than, for example, having separate kitchens. Each generation has their own space but communal areas are exactly that. "We made a conscious decision not to have an annexe," says Chris Frost, "but we have made an effort to acknowledge the children's grandmother's privacy." This is in itself, she says, an important lesson for their children.

For others, though, harmony demands physical separation to a greater degree. Lesley and Janet Goddard transformed an old barn next to their house into a two-bedroom, two-reception living unit for her mother. "We knew from the start that we each had to have our privacy and a degree of separateness, or sparks would fly," says Lesley. "This way we could have that, yet we're literally only a few feet away."

It doesn't work for everyone, however. Gavin and Jane Hayes began optimistically enough. "We thought we had agreed the ground rules," says Jane, "but my parents began interfering in ways that I found oppressive. The last straw was when they commented on the time I got back from a party. In the end, we had to say that, though the idea was great, it couldn't work."

KEEPING THE PEACE

Knowing when to shut up and the ability to compromise are vital.

If you haven't even spent a family holiday together, try first.

Think about how you deal with irritations. Do you feel that you can deal with conflicts effectively?

Making it work is a process of learning and adjustment. The challenge is to establish a new pattern of relating to each other.

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