Help! We’re Living with Our Parents: When 3 Generations are Under 1 Roof

Living with Our Parents: Making a Multigenerational Household Work

We live in a time where it is not uncommon to find three generations living under the same roof. Maybe you and your husband are going through financial difficulties, and you’ve had to move in with one set of parents. Maybe your parents are going through financial difficulties and have had to move in with you! Or maybe one of your parents is widowed, and just can’t live on their own anymore.

Sometimes life throws us these curve balls, and we have a living situation that we did not expect. Living with our parents isn’t the norm, and it can cause panic!

But some cultures have lived this way for millenia. It isn’t really that uncommon. And while to the North American mind it may not be ideal, there are definitely ways to make it work.

Divide Up Household Responsibilities and Establish Rules

Set up a system so that each night someone is assigned the dishes, trash, and so forth. If everyone makes a contribution, there is less likely resentment or argument will occur – especially if these responsibilities are divided up and assigned from the start. Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of assuming that certain courtesies are common knowledge to everyone; as a family, agree on what activities can and cannot be tolerated. For instance, is there a “quiet hour” that should be enforced? Do dishes need to be cleaned right away so they don’t pile up in the sink? By laying out expectations, you’re helping everyone to circumvent potential arguments. In order to keep track of who is suppose to do what, consider purchasing or creating a family calendar or organizer like some of the examples found here.

I know that’s hard to do because it puts “rules” on what is supposed to be a “relationship”. And we’re often uncomfortable talking about rules with our parents. But it’s better to get it out in the open now! Say something like, “This may be awkward, but we love you and we appreciate you and we don’t want the way we’re living to wreck our relationship. So let’s get ground rules so that there aren’t any misunderstandings.”

Decide on Child Care

Here’s the thorniest issue: You’ve moved in with mom and dad, but you don’t parent the same way. You want the kids to only eat at meals, with healthy snacks in between. Your mom loves to give them sugar. Or maybe you think your mom and dad are too strict, and they discipline the children needlessly.

They’re your kids, and you want to stay the parent. But if you’re living in your parents’ house, especially if it’s because you’ve lost your job or house, it can be hard to stand up to your parents. They have the upper hand.

At the same time, it really isn’t reasonable to ask that they never discipline the kids or never interfere. It’s also THEIR house, and if excess noise bothers them, even if you think it shouldn’t be a problem, it is.

So talk about what rules you want for the kids, and come to an agreement that you will be the one to discipline them when you are in the home. If you’re relying on your parents to look after the kids, though, you have to give them some leeway, even if they do things that you’d prefer they not do. If your parents are crossing a line, then you simply must move out. But if they just do things differently, then you’ll have to learn to show some grace and respect their boundaries, too. It’s the hardest part of living together!

Create a Safe Environment–for the Little Ones, but also for Seniors

Make sure your home is a safe haven for everyone. Obviously that means child-proofing the house, but maybe it means “senior proofing” the house, too! Make sure that the floors are clear of clutter (or tiny legos!) they can trip over. Install guardrails near the toilet and in the shower and make sure that the stairs are well-lit. In order to free yourself and your children from the burden of worrying about the older adults when you are out of the home, consider purchasing a medical alert system, like those found here; this way, the wearer can receive immediate attention, regardless of whether you’re nearby. Like your other security systems, this may never be activated, but to be safe than sorry.

Devise a System to Handle Problems

Communication and compromise are both extremely important when living with other people – especially in a multigenerational home.  Once a month, call a family meeting where everyone has a chance to express their own thoughts on what is working, what is not, and what needs to be fixed. My daughter lives with three other girls while she’s at university, and they have house rules printed on the fridge, and periodic meetings to check in and make sure everyone’s fine. If the meetings are regular and expected then resentment doesn’t have a chance to build up.

Respect Privacy

Are kids allowed in Grandma and Grandpa’s room? What about the office? Make sure your kids know what rooms to steer clear of. And what if you and your husband need some alone time? Consider paying for a dinner out for your parents. Sure it costs something, but if they’re letting you live with them, it’s relatively minor compared to rent. And make sure that you and the kids leave Grandma and Grandpa alone at least one night a week, too! Head out to a park, or go see a movie, or head to the library. Give them some time without you. In fact, as much as possible find things to do with the kids outside the home, whenever you can, to give your parents some peace. When the weather’s better, make picnic lunches. Have a homework time for school aged kids in the local library. Acknowledge that you want to give your parents some alone time, and then they’re more likely to give you alone time, too!

 Make Time for Family Bonding

Sometimes, though, instead of alone time you need together time! The best way to get over petty disagreements is to also have times when you’re laughing together. Whether it’s dinner together a few nights a week, or a family game night, it’s important to come together as a family. Sometimes finding ways for the generations to bond over hobbies does wonders, too! If Grandma is feeling overwhelmed with all the kids underfoot, what about spending time with just the oldest girl and teach her how to knit?

Hopefully the situation living with three generations is temporary, but if you set up rules, have times to talk about problems, and work on both bonding and on privacy, you may just find it works quite well (and saves a ton of money!). Most problems come when people don’t prepare for them, and often the reason that we have to all move in together is precipitated by a health or financial crisis, which doesn’t exactly make planning easy. But once the crisis has calmed down, take these steps to make it easier. And hopefully you’ll find that love really can multiply.

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  1. In my experience, if Christians are critical and judgmental about anything, this is one of the biggest. Problem is, before criticizing, no-one bothers (read: cares?) to try and understand the situation. There are a host of expectations that are tearing apart the body of Christ rather than offering love and grace.

    I’m praying that the times I have been judged and criticized keep me from doing the same to others.

  2. My husband got a new job moving us in the same state as my parents. He moved in with them in October because the job started and our house hadn’t sold. So, my girrls and I stayed behind for a time. It was important for us to establish before he even moved in what their expectations of him were.

    We set up ground rules about helping around the house, providing money each pay check for food and utilities etc. It worked out pretty well. It was important for us to not make them feel like we were taking advantage of them, so while he was establishing himself in his new job, he also maintained a positive relationship with them by helping them with chores around the house or their small business.

    The girls and I have lived with them for a little more than a month and because I am a stay at home mom I try my best to be the wife/mom/housekeeper for everyone. I am sure to cook for everyone and clean up at least after my family of four but usually all of us (two sisters are living here as well, one because her husband was deployed and she established her OB dr in this town).

    In the moments when I get resentful that I’m cleaning everyone’s bathroom, cooking all the meals, cleaning all the dishes, vacuuming all the rooms and taking care of my children, business issues with buying a new home and selling the old one, I try to remember that it is a blessing to us that we can stay with them rent free while we await the closing of our new home. It would have been much more expensive and inconvenient to live for a couple months in a hotel room with my two young girls. So, when I am feeling taken advantage of but the situation falls under what we already set up as ground rules, I bite my tongue and get over it. Just like you said, our relationship is more important than some of the conveniences I’m missing from living with extended family.

    I also am very careful to not pawn my kids off for free child care. As convenient as it would be to leave them behind with my parents to grocery shop or run errands, I remember that if I were in my own home I’d take them with me anyway. I don’t get to be a part time mom just because there are more adults around.

    The most important thing though was making sure we established rules ahead of time, and then being sure to put their needs above my own (and conincidently they then respect my needs as well.)

    ps. I am eager to get in my own new home next week though, as nice as the togetherness has been 😉

  3. We bought our house in May and my brother-in-law moved in with us right away. He’s actually the reason we bought a house as soon as we did. It was cheaper for us to purchase the house than it was for us to rent a house of a comparable size. We established rules early on, and things have flowed really well. (My BIL needs structure and consistency, he has autism and he just is happier with it.) Then on January 1st, my MIL moved in. So far things are going well. She’s been a huge help to me. I am quick to tell her too, because she’s felt as though she’s been a burden. (FAR FROM IT!!!) I think it all depends on the family and the people involved. I’m grateful that we have been blessed to get a house as large as it is without us feeling overwhelmed and crowded. And I’m so happy that I’ve been able to help both of these wonderful people. And I’m glad that my son has an opportunity to get to know his grandmother.

  4. America is about the only country in the world, if not the only, where multi-generational co-habitation is not commonly practiced. If the economy and decline of the middle class continues as well as increasing expenses with stagnant income we will likely see the return of it in this country by virtue of economic necessity. I doubt the retired baby-boomer generation will be able sustain themselves independently if they live too long. A sad truth but it may have the beneficial effect of revitalizing the family unit across generations beyond only parent and child.
    Dan recently posted…“When was the last time you kissed me?”My Profile

  5. Thanks for this! Right now we’re living with hubbies parents and have for over a year. It can work out, but these are GREAT things to know and plan on going into it! :)
    Nicole Elliott recently posted…Because You Can’t Go Wrong with Flowers – the Bouqs co.My Profile

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