An Argument for Intergenerational Living
Here are some tough questions you’re probably not discussing in even your hardest class. How and when will you explain Santa Claus to your children? How will you be involved at your future church or parish? When is the right time to get married, or start having children? What’s the right way to talk to a dying family member? Do you actually know how to change a diaper?
I raise these questions not to depreciate the Notre Dame education students are striving for, but to point out a problem that has become abundantly clear to me in the months that have passed since my own graduation: we are not prepared.
The immediate reply, of course, is that you’re in your early twenties, no one at that age is prepared for life. While in the history of the world twenty-somethings have never really had life figured out, today’s young people are devoid of an important source of wisdom, reflection, and practical knowledge that no generations before them have ever lacked: intergenerational communities.
We are lacking the beautiful interdependence, passing along of traditions and practical skills, and, to be frank, more humbling perspective on life that comes with truly knowing and living alongside a slice of humanity—babies, those nearing retirement, young parents, the elderly, or even just people ten years our senior.
This struck me on a recent visit to Washington, D.C., a city filled with recent college graduates and humming with the energy of young people trying to make their place in the world. For these young people, living and socializing exclusively with people a few years older or younger than them is the rule, not the exception.
Most second semester seniors probably already know what city they will move to after graduation, and for most Notre Dame students, that will be D.C., Chicago, or New York, with a few scattering to Los Angeles or San Francisco. They will live with fellow class of 2020ers, work alongside them, and spend their weekends with them, too.
But why is this an issue?
For time immemorial, intergenerational communities have been an invaluable source of wisdom and knowledge. Now, we are essentially in the middle of a huge social science experiment in which we will find out if young people can make it through life’s biggest and most important questions (and yes, changing a diaper is one of them) all alone, and if older people can do the same.
The second part is more arresting than the first, I’m afraid. We shouldn’t maintain good relationships with our fathers just to get tax advice or keep in touch with our aging neighbors in order to have someone to help us when our car breaks down.
No, I would like to argue that there is something inherently good for every person in being in community with others outside their own age bracket.
Watching others go through major milestones—buying a house, getting engaged or married, having children, etc.—shows you that you’re never alone, and that good examples are a source of strength.
It is humbling to watch a grandparent’s health collapse, and to learn in that process what a gift your own young limbs are. It is humbling to be on the edge of your seat for your sister’s pregnancy complications, and to be struck dumb when the beauty of creation itself is finally placed in your arms, four weeks early and completely dependent on her parents.
I hope these examples, and ones with your own families, neighbors, and communities back home, make you think twice before settling into a single age bracket lifestyle for the next decade of your life.
Here’s the ultimate lesson that will never be taught in a college class: we are born dependent creatures, we become the providers, and we will age into dependency once again. This is a simple truth, one that anyone over the age of 50 will probably be able to tell you. And yet our culture drives us to be autonomous, independent creatures because it’s honestly easier. But choose to live intergenerationally.
Your society, your neighbors and families, and most importantly, your future self who knows how to plan a wedding, plant a garden, host a dinner party, make amends after a fight, sew a button, and even change a diaper, will thank you for it.
Soren Hansen, former Politics Editor for The Rover, graduated from Notre Dame last year and is working for the Constitutional Studies Program. Feel free to send her tips on gardening or intergenerational living at firstname.lastname@example.org.