How to Care for Your Mental Health (and Stay Organized) in a Multigenerational Household

Almost 30% of younger Asian American adults share a home with their children and aging parents, and the number of Americans living in multigenerational family households only continues to grow. It comes as no surprise that living in this sort of household creates stress and conflict, especially when we are […]

Almost 30% of younger Asian American adults share a home with their children and aging parents, and the number of Americans living in multigenerational family households only continues to grow. It comes as no surprise that living in this sort of household creates stress and conflict, especially when we are unable to leave the house to take any mental breaks during a pandemic, says Dr. Sally Chung, PsyD, ABPP, a clinical psychologist in Bellevue, Washington.

For one, responsibility boundaries are tested. Everyone might have unspoken expectations of what each person’s role looks like, says Dr. Chung. Relatedly, there is a possible family habit of hinting there is a need to be filled instead of asking someone directly. “Instead of saying, ‘Could you do the dishes tonight,’ they might say that someone left a mess in the kitchen,” says Dr. Chung. “And the person who overhears feels pressured into volunteering for that.”

There is also less psychological space for each person. “Everyone has to be more considerate of everybody else,” says Dr. Chung. “When people feel they have to be on their best behavior, they can’t be free to do things the way they normally would.”

How can we manage these challenges?

Set realistic expectations for each family member

Anita Yokota, an interior designer and licensed marriage and family therapist in Orange County, California, suggests finding out what each person’s strengths are and designating each a role they feel they are good at. Hash out which days of the week the person would like off from their allocated task, says Dr. Chung, to set a precedent that not everyone is accessible at all times.

Respect each person’s “me space”

Find out which places in the home each family member retreats to for enjoyment or to unwind. If a few people enjoy the living room, Yokota says to notice the areas within the room each person is drawn to and leave that place for them, so they don’t feel they need to fight for their own space.

Normalize self-care for everyone

“Older Asian American parents are used to stealing moments of time to rest, like when they are reading the paper or watching TV dramas,” says Dr. Chung. When you need to practice self-care, saying “I need to rest” is more likely to help them understand.

Make it part of the family culture to ask each other directly for help

If you hear a guilting comment hinting the kitchen is messy, Dr. Chung suggests seizing the opportunity and turning it into a direct question, such as saying “Yeah, the kitchen is messy, would you mind if I took over dishes on these three nights?”

Encourage regular discussions around things to improve and things that are going well

Yokota suggests framing the conversation as a way to demonstrate to the younger generation how adults share and solve problems together, using words like invite or partner so each adult feels their contribution is important. Use the time to highlight what has been successful as well.

How can we organize a house to serve everyone’s mental well-being?

Prepare a safe home for aging parents so you have peace of mind

Evangeline Dennie, director of interiors, sustainability, and wellness design at AI-DesignLab, advises clearing pathways of tripping hazards, and putting away furniture whose main purpose is decoration. Dennie also encourages placing the older adults’ daily essentials on lower shelves or countertops so they are accessible.

Light up the house

“People feel better in a space that is lit and lighting improves visibility if an older parent’s eyesight is diminishing,” adds Dennie. Throw the windows open or invest in lighting to brighten the space artificially, such as installing LED strips under shelving to light up kitchen countertops.

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