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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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