Multigenerational Homes: Background information when reading We Are the Ants

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We Are the Ants

by Shaun Hutchinson

We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson X
We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 464 pages

    May 2017, 480 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

Multigenerational Homes

This article relates to We Are the Ants

Print Review

Multigenerational FamiliesIn We Are the Ants, Henry Denton's maternal grandmother, Nana, lives with him. Early on, it's clear that Nana has Alzheimer's and lives with his family because she can no longer live on her own. Henry is very fond of her and although she has moments of clarity, she is becoming a challenge:

Nana's forgetfulness was cute at first – she'd call us by the wrong names, mix up our birthdays, send us Christmas cards in the middle of summer – but it isn't cute anymore. Sometimes she looks at me, and I see nothing but a deepening abyss where my grandmother used to be.

Even so, it's not all bad. She cooks for the family and offers love and counsel to her grandchildren. With two other generations in the house, they can all keep a careful eye on Nana, make sure she takes her meds, and keep her safe – postponing, for as long as possible, the need for an expensive residential nursing home. And Henry's tenderness and love for his grandmother give him a humanity he might otherwise not have.

According to an April 2015 Newsweek article, "a record 57 million Americans (1 in 6 people) now live in some sort of multigenerational configuration. That number has doubled since 1980." And in England, an article cites the figure increased by 56% between 2004 and 2014, to a total of 313,000 multigenerational households.

One reason for this has been the recession. Since 2008, formerly independent young adults who lost jobs have had no other option but to give up an under-water home and return to live with their parents while they look for work. Due to the poor job market, many recent college graduates have also been forced to move back in with their parents. Additionally, many double income families have found that adding an in-law wing to their home can be a practical option when it comes to responsible child-care. Granny PodSusan Newman, a parenting expert who has authored 15 books, says: "Temporarily living together is good for families, especially for grown children who can get to know their parents as people and not authoritarians who set the rules." But she cautions that there have to be certain upfront ground rules that respect everybody's rights/responsibilities as adults and protects their privacy. Many adults have found that living with their elderly parents as adults has enriched their lives and they have become more like friends.

On the other hand, a more permanent arrangement involving live-in or live-with grandparents can prove beneficial for everyone involved. Young children who have close contact with grandparents gain a new perspective while observing their parents' relationships with their elders. Plus grandparents are generally able to take more time to fill in the blanks with information about family history, distant/deceased relatives and so on.

An Oxford study "found that teenagers are happier when grandparents are involved in their upbringing. The study, which followed over 1,500 school-age kids in the UK, reported that teens who spent more quality time with a grandparent had fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their peers." And grandparents who are engaged with younger generations are less likely to suffer symptoms of depression, and enjoy better long-term health.

In the UK,"The trend [of cohabiting multigenerational families] has led to a surge in demand for new properties that are big enough to house several generations. Builders have reported an increase in the number of families trying to add a granny annexe or an extra bedroom or bathroom to their home."

Many kinds of family, courtesy of
"Granny Pod" - small house that can be placed on the property of a family member to allow for proximity and independence at the same time, courtesy of

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Donna Chavez

This "beyond the book article" relates to We Are the Ants. It originally ran in January 2016 and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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