Philip Giroux has fond memories of the grandmother who lived with his family when he was a boy.
"She was always there for me and I bonded with her, even more than with my own mother," said Giroux, a landscape architect who lives in West Los Angeles. "Now our children benefit from the closeness . . . of two grandparents."
Giroux, his wife, Kathy, and their children, Todd and Samantha, have lived with Kathy's parents, the Rev. Jerry and Helen Shiroishi, for the past 10 years.
And they wouldn't have it any other way.
"Our grandparents are like having a second set of parents," said 16-year-old Todd. "My grandfather is 77. He's so active and always in a good humor."
"They know how to keep a secret," confided 13-year-old Samantha. "When I'm sick and my Mom's working, my Gram makes me soup and toast, and when we need money, we can borrow from them. My friends think they're funny and cute and nice."
Like the Girouxs, more and more families are living in extended family arrangements, according to the latest census findings.
"Whether by choice or necessity, multi-generational households have tripled in the past two decades," said Steve Rawlings, a family demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau.
"The number of householders living with one or more children and grandchildren in 1990 was about 1.4 million, or 2% of all family households; in 1970 there were 447,000." The changing picture, Rawlings added, is attributable to a growing number of single-parent situations, a new wave of immigrants and a tighter economy.
For the Shiroishis and Girouxs, the joining of two households was both an economic decision and an arrangement that made good sense.
The Shiroishis had purchased the family home in West Los Angeles in the 1940s and raised two children there. After their daughter married Philip Giroux, the young couple rented for two years, then moved in with her parents.
"We were expecting our second child. I was just getting started in my own business and we couldn't afford to buy a home," said Philip Giroux. "That's when we decided to ask my in-laws if we could build our own quarters as an addition to their home."
"The arrangement seemed like a good idea to us," said grandmother Shiroishi. "We all got along really well, and my husband and I were rarely home, traveling a good deal on church business." Her husband is a minister of the Japanese Gedatsu Church of America.
Giroux redesigned the Shiroishis two-bedroom, one-bath home by adding a second story, increasing the size of the structure from 1,200 to 2,800 square feet. It now has six bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths and a beautifully landscaped yard.
The present arrangement provides the Shiroishis with a two-bedroom suite and bath on the ground floor and upstairs bedrooms for the Girouxs and their children. Common areas are shared by the entire family.
"For a year during construction, we lived in very tight quarters and everyone had to learn to make adjustments," the grandmother recalled. "At first I was running myself ragged trying to pick up after two very active kids but I finally got over that."
"We have fun with our grandchildren, and they're always in and out of our rooms," added grandfather Shiroishi. "My grandson is 16, and just got his driver's license. Now he says to me: 'Gee,' . . . that's short for grandfather in Japanese . . . 'are you using the car tonight' and I let him borrow it. All this activity keeps me alert."
The multi-generational lifestyle is common and apparently on the rise among Latinos, European and Asian immigrants and among blacks, said Monica Hampton, regional director for Lutheran Family emergency services.
"These groups have traditionally relied on reciprocal help among family members and across generations," she said. "And it's a positive factor in our society that family members are willing to live together. If they were not, we would be looking at a much greater homeless population."
Steve Smiley, manager of the Los Angeles and Ventura division of the Meyers Group, which tracks buyer profiles for new home developers, observed that when several generations of a family live together, it is not always a matter of choice.
"It is not a lifestyle that applies to the average American family, but for a great many of them, struggling because of a lingering recession, there is little choice but to move into larger homes and to share accommodations with family or friends," Smiley said.
"We also find a large number of multi-generational households among the many Asian and Hispanic families which have been settling in the east San Gabriel Valley, for whom the concept of extended family living under one roof is an accepted cultural tradition," he added.
Steve Boggs, director of building operations for Standard Pacific in the Ventura area, also has seen many changes in the housing market in the past year and reports good sales with homes that have a higher room count.