• My dad was getting up early and taking my son on long walks, and my mum was building blocks with him, giggling and wrestling. (Supplied)
In many places around the world, this “intergenerational living” is just life.
By
Nadine Chemali

18 Sep 2018 - 6:00 AM  UPDATED 18 Sep 2018 - 1:56 PM

In my first year of uni I moved out of home and into a share house.  

When I say moved out of home I actually mean I packed my car with all my earthly belongings, called my Middle Eastern parents out on to the balcony and yelled up to them “I’m leaving home! Call you soon! Love you!” before they had a chance to stop me.

This was unusual. None of my cousins or migrant friends would move out until much later, waiting to finish study, save for a first home and get an established job.

In 2012 after having my son, my partner and I moved back in with my parents. We were buying a home and wanted to save before the merry-go-round of mortgage repayments.

At first, I was very hesitant. The thought of my parents being right there (in my lounge room) gave me anxiety and slight heartburn.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no unsolicited advice as I had feared (although many opinions) and I realised how much I had missed, leaving home young.

I missed coming home to a cooked meal every day or cooking for my loved ones, sitting around big platters of stuffed zucchini, kibbeh and cabbage rolls with people that loved and knew me so well.

I realised I had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent - especially when I eyed my cousins with their homes purchased through their staying home and saving.

I was reminded of my childhood where we lived with grandparents or my aunts and uncles lived with us, which meant I had friends around me, my cousins

My son enjoyed the benefits of waking up to my parents and they had a new lease on life, revitalised by having this small person they loved and doted on in their home.

My dad was getting up early and taking my son on long walks, and my mum was building blocks with him, giggling and wrestling. I saw a side to them that was softer and so loving that I can’t have any regrets of sharing that time with them, especially as they age. As a bonus I saved money in excess childcare and babysitting.

I was reminded of my childhood where we lived with grandparents or my aunts and uncles lived with us, which meant I had friends around me, my cousins.

I called my Aunties “my other mums” and I could turn to them anytime. It is how we lived, how my community lived, back home in Lebanon and we brought that with us moving here. When a new family arrived in Australia, they moved in with us till they got on their feet.

I read an article on a news website the other day that outlined something called “intergenerational living’ in Australia: a new phenomenon whereby baby boomers move in with their adult kids to help them cope with the increased stresses of family life and the higher cost of living. It featured four white Australian families extolling the benefits of their newly discovered family arrangement.

But like modern western discoveries of the healing properties of turmeric, meditation, yoga and olive oil, this is something people of colour have known since the dawn of time. It’s an honour in many cultures to invite your parents to live with you or near you.

I asked two people, my Tongan and Indigenous friend, Semisi, and my brother, Labib, why their parents have lived with them.

Both explained that it’s a great honour, that as the oldest in their family they get to care for their parents as they age; while their parents assist with home life, helping with cooking, cleaning, caring for their grandchildren.

In many places around the world, this “intergenerational living” is just life

Semisi said he suffered teasing and ridicule for having so many people in one family home, being called “poor” in his teens and later a “mummy’s boy” for choosing to live at home with his parents and bringing his wife into the family home. Laughing, he explains that ironically it meant his family was in a more stable position financially because they were able to combine their wealth and incomes and they genuinely enjoyed and loved each other’s company.

In many places around the world, this “intergenerational living” is just life. I visited Lebanon and Greece a few years ago and asked “Why do so many houses look unfinished? They are like half built buildings, with steel framing poking out the top”. I learned that for many people they would build the first floor of their house and as their children grew older they would build another storey, on top, adding storeys for each generation with the grandparents living downstairs, grounding the family home.

When the settlement on my house came around and it was time to move out of my parents’ home, I was genuinely sad. The upside was, my family started visiting them more, staying overnight or popping in for huge breakfasts of ful’mdamas (lemony garlicky beans) whipped up by Dad or swinging by on my way home from work to pick up “take away” dinners my mum prepared. My son started calling them every evening to wish them “night-night”. The time we spent living together brought us so much closer.

As my folks are now in their eighties, they currently live with my sister, and before that my brother, and there is a constant argument between siblings over who gets them next. 

Watching my son grow up now I want him to know that while I have no expectations on his future, my home is always open to him, be it a big Lebanese breakfast or splitting bills. I want him to see the value of community and friendship in family.

Nadine Chemali is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

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