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Exchange: Multigenerational homes the norm for some families

By SARAH WOLF Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- The two-bedroom house that Tracy Pixler has rented on Allington Avenue for the past two years is a full one. The 46-year-old Pixler shares 1,400 square feet with what is technically a 12-member household -- seven people and five animals.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," she said.

Pixler and her daughter Shaylin Madsen, 9, share a room on the main level. Pixler's other daughter, Cassidie, 21, and Cassidie's fiance, Jordan Quandee, share a bedroom on the second story with their son, Kaiden Quandee, 1. Pixler's son, Tory Rebelak, 26, lives in the finished basement with his fiancee, Tina Phouthavong. Rounding out the bunch are cats, Oliver and Shadow; Louie, a 110-pound German Shepherd; and two snakes, Natas and Bronco, who live in a large tank that takes up a good portion of the living room.

The family is among those who live in a multigenerational household, which the U.S. Census Bureau defines as "consisting of three or more generations of relatives, such as a householder living with his or her children and grandchildren." According to a Census Bureau American Community Survey, there were an estimated 4.5 million multigenerational households in the U.S. in 2015, the latest year for which the statistic is available.

An August 2016 Pew Research Center study found that multigenerational living increased dramatically after the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 and is still steadily on the rise.

Cassidie, Jordan, Tory and Tina split rent four ways while Pixler covers gas, electric and groceries. She also watches Kaiden during the week while Cassidie and Jordan are at work. They spend their days together playing, reading and going for walks or to the park. Kaiden has become so comfortable with the arrangement that he isn't fazed when his parents leave for the day. Instead, he gives them a hug goodbye and goes back to riding his mini-camouflage four-wheeler -- "like Evel Knievel," Pixler said, laughing -- looking to her, his "Gammy," for approval of his newest moves. "I want him here with me," Pixler said. "He's my world."

The family recently purchased a three-bedroom, 1,900-square-foot house to which they plan on moving in July.

Pixler said their primary reason for living together isn't financial.

"They could all easily go out on their own," she said. "They've all got each other's backs. ... It's like (Kaiden) has six parents. He has a lot of people who love him. He's got a wonderful support system." There are benefits and drawbacks for those who live in a multigenerational household, said Lisa Pieper, regional vice president of Children's Home & Aid and a licensed clinical social worker. Pieper stressed, when faced with life's trials, reliable adults in a child's life can make the difference between his or her ability to cope and going down a more destructive path.

"Not that day cares don't do a good job ... but I think it gives children that sense of stability when they can be with extended family members," Pieper said. "(Kids) may end up in a different school or a different day care, but Grandma is always going to be Grandma."

In an ideal situation, Pieper said, second-generation parents benefit from the help and "hands-on training" they receive from the older generation. However, she acknowledged this isn't always the case.

"It can be hard for the grandparent to treat their child as an adult and let them make their own decisions as a parent," Pieper said. In 2006, Regina moved back to Rockford from California to live with her daughter after Yolanda had run into some trouble with the law.

"It takes a toll when you're grown and you've been on your own and you're back with Mom," said Yolanda, who now works at Rick's Ribs in Loves Park and runs her own program for ex-offenders, Uncommon Steps 2 Success Reentry Program.

"She can undermine my parenting. I still consider her my best friend but ... we bicker and argue, and it's not major things. It's petty things."

One instance was when Yolanda told Keranie she wasn't allowed to play with a family cellphone. After Yolanda left the house, Regina eventually gave in to her granddaughter.

"Her nerves won't allow her to hear the crying," Yolanda said.

Aside from an aide who helps Regina on weekday mornings, Yolanda is the primary caregiver for her mother, who uses a wheelchair. Before her health declined, Regina would watch Keranie while Yolanda was at work and said it can be difficult not to step in, even when she knows she shouldn't.

"I feel like a mother instead of a grandmother because I did a lot with (Keranie), and then I'm the grandmother who let's her get away with stuff sometimes," Regina said. "It is (Yolanda's) daughter, it's not my daughter."

While not every multigenerational parenting situation is without bumps, "the positives far outweigh the negatives," Pieper said. "Grandparents, it's your job to have fun. Parents need to parent. When that line is blurred, there can be tension. But I've seen most families work that out pretty young."

After having made "some bad decisions," Pixler said, she is grateful that her children were willing to let her prove she could be a devoted mom and grandma.

"I trust her," said her daughter Cassidie, who admitted to feeling embarrassed that she lived with extended family while she was in middle school. "Now that my grandma (Pixler's mother) has passed I feel like I should've cherished that time more," she said.

And though Yolanda and Regina have had their arguments, the two women acknowledge they can't imagine not living together.

"She told me she'd never let me go. I couldn't live by myself, I know that," Regina said. "I would miss both of them because I've been with them for so long."

"My whole life (my mom) has been a hard worker," Yolanda said. "She didn't have to come back (to Rockford) for me. She's never judged me because of the mistakes I've made. She's always there no matter what."

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Source: Rockford Register Star, http://bit.ly/2rsODCY

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com

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