I live in a fairly established area with a lot of retirees, and it seems that every week I hear about a family whose adult kids are moving back in, sometimes with grandchildren in tow. And the phenomenon is not just limited to my neighborhood – the AARP estimates that 5.8 million kids currently live in their grandparents’ homes.
I’m no stranger to the condition myself – I moved in with my in-laws briefly while our house was being constructed, complete with a dog and a newborn baby. Moving back home with your parents after college can be tough, but living with parents when you’re grown and you have a family of your own is a different scenario altogether.
While living with my in-laws, I learned first-hand the challenges that can affect both grandparents and parents in a multigenerational household. Luckily, my time there was short and sweet – we moved into our new home when my daughter was six months old – but it was long enough to impart an important learning experience, mainly about how to make things work and what hurdles to watch out for.
Making Multigenerational Households Work
1. Set Boundaries
The easiest way to set rules and boundaries for grandparents and parents is to do it early. If you don’t want your parents to take it upon themselves to discipline your kids, make that clear during a family meeting on day one. If you prefer that your parents not enter your part of the home when you’re not there, make sure you discuss it with them at the start as well.
Grandparents should be informed early on what’s appropriate for your kids – everything from overall diet, access to snacks, TV shows, activities, and bedtimes should all be talked about to help your kids stay on track and put you firmly in control of their upbringing. By setting a precedent at the beginning of your time with your parents, you can ensure less stress, drama, and fewer hurt feelings that could result from unclear boundaries.
2. Find Some Privacy
Everyone needs a little bit of privacy sometimes. Whether you have a full apartment or just one room, make sure everyone in your parents’ home is able to steal some time away when feeling overwhelmed. If your parents need space, make their room off-limits to your kids. If you need some time alone, a lock on the bedroom door can help keep unwanted drop-ins at bay.
Living in close quarters can produce tension, so always make sure that whoever needs an emotional timeout gets one. If the home is too small for everyone to have a dedicated space, think about scheduling private time for each member of the family. Grandma can unwind in the den after dinner while you and your spouse relax in the living room. Watch for signs that your kids need privacy too – if they start getting cranky or overstimulated, you can suggest alone time for play, reading, or entertainment.
3. Divvy Up the Chores and Costs
Just because you’re not living in your own home doesn’t mean you’re released from your responsibilities. Whether it’s splitting rent or helping with day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, you’re going to need to decide who does what around the house – and moving in with your parents can blur the lines, especially if your mom loves to take care of you. This can be a bonus if, for example, you don’t mind doing laundry but hate cooking.
Simply choose the chores you prefer and help shoulder some of the burden you’re putting on your parents. Housekeeping, yard work, and home maintenance are all tasks that adults in the home can trade off. Even if those loving parents protest, make sure you divvy up the chores and take on some responsibility. Creating some sort of structured house cleaning schedule can also be helpful to set expectations.
4. Connect as a Family
Grandparents tend to be more indulgent than parents, so if Grandma and Grandpa leave you feeling like the “mean parent,” be sure to spend time with your core family without them. Whether you and the kids go on a picnic, head to the park, or even just go for a walk, that time can be helpful in reestablishing your connection with them. What’s more, it can give your parents a much-needed break, even if they’re not asking for one.
5. Pick Your Battles
Don’t leave the orange juice in the fridge with just a sip left in it. Wash all your dishes. Pick up all your kids’ toys off the floor. Remember, you have to live with your parents, so save your conflicts for the things that really matter, like how to discipline your children, or protecting your privacy.
Living with any adult is bound to bring up issues that can get under your skin – multiply that by about a hundred when those adults are your parents. Before you open your mouth to complain, ask yourself if it’s a worthy argument. Remember, you can’t just leave in the middle of a fight and deal with it another time. Hold your tongue unless it really matters.
6. Be Respectful
Your parents might not do everything the way you would in your own household, but you have to remind yourself that you’re not in your own household. Even if your parents are delighted that you’re living with them, it’s not simply an extended vacation.
Take the time to observe the way they like certain things to be done, whether it’s organizing the pantry or sorting the laundry. While these may seem like small things, conforming to your parents’ norm limits the disruption you bring to their lifestyle and shows a measure of respect for their home. You should also talk to your kids about these issues, particularly when it comes to their grandparents’ belongings and keeping the home tidy.
7. Set a Routine
Kids need structure and predictability in their lives, especially after moving into a new home where Grandma and Grandpa are always around to indulge them. A routine helps everyone coordinate schedules and work around engagements and responsibilities, doubly so if you rely on your parents for babysitting. Make sure you’re all running on the same schedule and you can ensure reliable childcare and, more importantly, consistency for your kids – regardless of who’s tending to them at the time.
8. Set Your Priorities
You can’t please everyone, especially when it comes to close-knit, close-quartered families. As a parent yourself, you need to know where your priorities and loyalties lie. Hurt feelings, miscommunication, and stepped-on toes can easily sour a relationship, but if the welfare of your kids is your highest priority, that’s where your focus should be.
Your mom may disapprove of your discipline methods and your dad may interfere with planning the best meals for your family, but there are times to stand your ground. Your children come first – remember that when you and your parents have differing opinions.
Living with your parents when you’re a parent yourself brings the challenges of raising your kids to a new level of difficulty. However, it can also be a challenge for your parents, adding financial and emotional strain to their lives. Gratitude goes a long way in smoothing out any relationship wrinkles, and staying consistent and firm with your rules can lead to a better experience for everyone. Multigenerational households only work with a high degree of mutual respect, communication, and, above all, loving family ties.
Have you ever lived with your parents and kids at the same time?