I love my family; they’re the greatest. And what I love most about them is that we no longer live together. It’s easy to get along when we’re not fighting about curfews, personal space, and whether to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom or top of the tube.
But with the recession and unemployment rates hitting wallets across the country, living on their own just isn’t an option for many people. Laura Koss-Feder recently wrote in Time Magazine about the growing numbers of “boomerang” adults. The term “boomerang children” used to be reserved for twenty-somethings moving back home after college, but the economic situation has pushed the age limit to include adults in their thirties and forties, often with families of their own, who move in with their parents while they regain financial footing. Koss-Feder cites statistics from AARP that the number of multigenerational households has increased from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2008. Those numbers are likely to keep growing as the economic situation worsens and unemployment rates keep climbing.
But if 6.2 million households can make it work, that means there are ways to live with family while avoiding conflict and without reverting to the roles that were in place when we were teenagers. Every family is different, of course, with its own nuances to negotiate, but there are some general guidelines that can help you make the most of the situation if you find yourself boomeranging back to mom and dad.
Have rules in place before you move in.
You might have had an 11 p.m. curfew when you were a teenager, but you’re not a teenager anymore. The dynamic between parents and their adult children requires a different set of rules, but it requires rules nonetheless. This time, though, you get to make some of them. Sit down with your parents (or whatever relative you will be living with) and lay down some ground rules just as you would with any other roommate. What chores and responsibilities will you each perform? How will you allot bathroom time in the morning if you’re all working? Most importantly, how do you all feel about overnight guests? This last one is a toughie. Just because you’re living with your parents for a while doesn’t mean you necessarily take a leave of absence from your sex life, especially if you’ll be there for a while. I’m not talking about parading hookers through your parents’ living room every night, but if you’re dating, you do want to be able to have them over. Hopefully your parents will understand this (you’ll need to use a lot of tact and creativity in broaching the subject, but broach it you must) and you’ll be able to find an arrangement that’s comfortable for everyone. If you just don’t see a way to do that, stay at his place.
Decide who pays for what, and stick to it.
Money makes the world go ’round, and it also causes a ton of fights and resentment. Just because you’re moving home to save money doesn’t mean you’re totally off the hook. Ask your family about their expectations regarding how you should help out with mortgage payments, utilities, food, etc. You expect them to treat you like an adult while you’re living there, so act like an adult and contribute to the household.
Respect the right to privacy and have yours respected.
I used to hate going home for the summer in college because my parents just couldn’t seem to understand that the major part of my life no longer had anything to do with them, and that I didn’t necessarily want to share all the details. Anytime I left the house or answered my cell phone, I was hit with a fusillade of questions about whom I was seeing, what I was doing, where I was going, and when I would be back. Fortunately, I had a bedroom to myself where I could retreat. As part of the ground rules you set before you move, make sure that every member of the family has his own recognized area of personal space, both physically and mentally. This should extend to your spouse and children if they’re moving with you. Your parents will probably counter that they need to know where you are and when to expect you home and that’s a fair argument. My parents and I reached an agreement that I would always let them know when to expect me home and that I would call if I was going to be late; they agreed to give me an hour after coming home to collect my thoughts and unwind before asking me to spend time with them. Reach a compromise and remember that compromise means you both make sacrifices.
Set a goal for when you’ll move out.
The problem with moving home is the inertia. Your family becomes a little world of its own and you can easily be lulled into the comfort of not having to worry about money so much, having dinner ready for you when you get home from work, and always having someone there to support you. This is all great for a while, but eventually the resentment will build from your stifled adulthood and your parents’ stifled freedom. (Remember, they had a life while you were gone, too.) If you have a spouse and kids in tow, it’s important to construct a family identity of your own. Before you move in, give some idea of when you think you’ll be able to be back on your feet. This date doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it will help everyone have a clearer understanding of the situation.
If you have kids, give them structure.
Grandparents make great babysitters, but your kids need to remember that you are their parent. Children need structure to thrive; they need to know what the rules are, who makes them, and what the consequences are for breaking them. A grandmother who gives your son a cookie every time he refuses to eat his dinner, after you’ve told him that he must finish his meal before dessert, is a recipe for a confused child who will begin to act out. Switching households is also very difficult for children, so help to ease them through the transition by making clear rules and making sure every adult in the house enforces them uniformly. Your parents should mete out the same rewards and punishments that you do for the same behaviors, but you should also listen to their input on what those rewards and punishments will be, since it is their household. As with all of the above, making sure everyone is on the same page is essential to avoiding conflict.
Enjoy family time.
You’re home! You’ve got old photo albums to go through, family stories to tell and re-tell, and some good home cooking to dig into. Instead of regarding living with your parents as a punishment, think about it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend some quality time with your parents as an adult and reconnect with your roots. You might be surprised at how much fun you can have enjoying a good old game of Scrabble with mom and dad.
Any time you live with other people, there’s bound to be some conflict. But that doesn’t mean that the overall experience can’t be positive, or that the major conflicts can’t be avoided with a little bit of tact … and a lot patience.