Under the same roof: They moved in to save money but stayed for family
San Diego is one of the top 10 cities in the country for multigenerational housing. This series tells the stories of multiple generations living under one roof.
For many families, time with the in-laws over the holidays, anniversaries and birthdays is all they can tolerate.
That’s not the case for the Maxwells and the Donohues.
Andrew Maxwell and his wife, Kari, sold their condo in Oceanside two years ago. They and their infant daughter moved in temporarily with Kari’s parents, Gina and Stephen Donohue, to save money while they looked for a new home. But after a few months of sharing a house, the Maxwells decided to stay. Finances brought them together, but now they love being together.
“I know the old trope is that you never like your in-laws,” Andrew Maxwell said. “I knew I would like my in-laws, but now I truly love my in-laws. They're very fun.”
The Maxwells' living arrangement is becoming more commonplace in the United States and locally. A little more than 10% of San Diegans dwell in multigenerational households. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Diego ranks ninth in the nation as having the most people living with three or more generations.
Skyrocketing housing costs and inflation are driving the trend.
Andrew and Kari pay her parents $700 monthly in rent to live in their four-bedroom Carlsbad home. That’s quite a bargain, considering a two-bedroom apartment in Carlsbad can run between $3,000 to $4,000. The couple also purchases most of the groceries, and Kari does a lot of the cooking while her mother, Gina, watches her granddaughter, Rudy.
Both Kari and Gina also work together at the family property management company. Andrew is a computer systems analyst at a firm in San Clemente, and his father-in-law, Stephen, runs a spray booth business.
Stephen said he never imagined his daughter and her family would share a home with him and his wife.
“When I grew up, you graduated high school and you were out,” Stephen said. “That's it.”
But as a businessman, he said he understands why families are moving in together. Houses in his Carlsbad neighborhood range from $900,000 to $1.2 million. Stephen makes clear his son-in-law and daughter are not freeloaders.
“It's not like they moved in and quit their jobs and sit around and watch TV all day,” Stephen said. “No, they're working adults trying in these trying times. I mean, my gosh, the value of these homes is insane, and how could you afford to buy them?”
But financial ease is not the only incentive for the Maxwell-Donohue household. More people under the same roof means more help.
“The fact that my in-laws are around just for extra hands, for playing with our daughter, for cleaning up after, for feeding her,” Andrew said. “There have been times where she wouldn't want to eat dinner, but grandma could get her to eat dinner, no problem.”
But he adds that the deep bonds that have formed among family members are the core of what has made the arrangement work. Andrew believes communal living has injected authenticity into their relationship that is absent when people only see the in-laws during the holidays or sporadic visits.
“We see each other first thing in the morning,” Andrew said. “We see each other ... at night when we're slovenly (and) when we're tired ... And we all just kind of see that in each other, and we understand."
Kari’s transition back to her parent’s home was even smoother.
“I grew up in this house,” Kari said. “We moved here, I think, when I was six or seven. I'm back in my old bedroom. I've had a fortunate experience that I like my parents. I lived with them until I got married, so I was 28 when I moved out.”
When she returned to her parent’s home to live, Kari said she and her mom resumed their camaraderie, but this time her husband was part of the mix. They dine out together, watch movies, play Pokémon and listen to their favorite '80s bands. Even Kari’s 3-year-old daughter is onboard with the era’s music.
“I feel like if you want to have a more fulfilling life, live with your family, live with your friends, even live with a big group of people, because it is nice to have that company around you."Andrew Maxwell
“My daughter's favorite band is Devo,” Kari said. “She also likes The B-52s. It's very sweet. My mom likes to give her bath time. It's one of their favorite things to do together. And I'll hear the new wave music coming from upstairs.”
Living with her granddaughter has been a lifeline for Gina.
“She just is a motivator for me to get up and get moving,” Gina said. “I have fibromyalgia, and so I'm exhausted all the time. But when she's here, and she wants to play, take the dog for a walk, I'm ready to go. It's been wonderful. I just love it.”
Both the Maxwells and Donohues envision living in their multigenerational household forever.
Andrew said the experience had taught him the adage is true: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.
“I feel like if you want to have a more fulfilling life, live with your family, live with your friends, even live with a big group of people, because it is nice to have that company around you,” he said.