Personally, I would not like to live in a "retirement" community, where other aging folks reflect back to me on a daily basis the image of my growing older. Mentally, I am much younger than my chronological years, or so I believe, maybe twenty-nine or so. I believe part of what keeps me young at 72 is living with younger people all around me. Once this was a common situation.
As the author of a book (Cryo Kid - Drawing a New Map, http://www.cryokid.com/) written from a multi-generational perspective, I've read with interest recently a number of articles about the growing trend of different generations living together in the same house. "Under one roof," by Sophia Fischer (Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, June 10, 2008, Y1; see http://www.latimes.com/) states that extended families began splitting up after World War II, as people began moving from rural areas to the cities. Actually, as Cryo Kid mentions, this movement started much earlier, when the industrial revolution caused workers to move to urban areas where work could be found. That's really when what later came to be called "the nuclear family" began to develop, and after 1945, the trickle became a stream. ("How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?") Most of my friends have children who live in different cities than the one they are living in. We came to think of nuclear families as the norm and extended families as old-fashioned, ethnic perhaps, something immigrants do to save money when they first came to this country. Some of my friends recoil in horror from the idea of living with their children. Or of their adult children (sometimes their divorced children) and grandchildren coming to live with them.
But I think it's a useful trend, a healthy trend, for kids to grow up with their grandparents, if not in the same house, at least close by. The younger generation keeps the older generation vibrant; they keep them in touch with current happenings (and how to use a Tivo, the Internet, a cell phone, an ipod, a blackberry, an iphone -- a cornucopia of technological advances). In return, the young ones get lots of love, fascinating stories about "how-things-were" their own parents are too busy to listen to, and plenty of wisdom about "how-things-are" to tuck away). There are built-in baby sitters for the grandkids, grown children to take ailing parents to the doctor, and other social benefits: Many hands make light work (remember that oldie?), for example. In particular, teens wrestling with the usual authority and identity issues associated with this age group often appreciate a grandparent's listening ear. (Unfortunately, younger kids can't pack their things and run away to grandma's house, but grandma's comforting lap is right there for snuggling and sympathy.)
And the family members can save a lot of money on get-together travel and air fare.
Money, in fact, is a BIG reason for multiple generations to live together, especially in toughening economic times. Combined incomes pay the mortagage and help out with the high price of food, never mind gas, these days. Younger members of the family can save money to purchase their own homes (hopefully close by!), mothers can stay at home, at least for a while, when they have their babies, and fathers know that they have others to share the financial burden. Maybe grandparents can take that long-awaited cruise.
All these benefits are, of course, predicated on the assumption that the family that decides to live together is a family that gets along -- and a family that learns to be sensitive to each other's personal space and -- especially -- the need to get away from one another as well. If you really can't stand one another, living together is a no-no. Go nuclear!
As Cryo Kid details,I have lived with my daughter and grandchild in what has been a very harmonious living arrangement for the last eight years. Other members of my family made a decision not to be a "scattered" family, like the families of so many of our friends. With considerable effort, we have managed to arrange our lives to reside and bring up the next generation in the same city, and we see one another very often. This is how we like it.