Last year, when our grown and married children moved back to Greensboro, my husband and I found that our empty nest would soon be filled again with our daughter and son-in-law. We welcomed them with open arms. More and more families have returned to life in multi-generational households. So while this is not an unusual situation, bringing two married couples under one roof offers unique challenges. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
Moving in is different from just a visit. While it is relatively easy to make room for short-term company, longer visits require a bit of reorganization. Your first task is to make the new occupants feel welcomed. This decision lies at the very heart of successful family reintegration. If your welcome is insincere, it will be obvious and an unpleasant attitude will soon pervade the premises. Sit down as a family, acknowledge that it’s difficult for everybody, and talk about things.
Your children are not just your children. Before our kids leave home, we expect them to live by our rules. But once grown children have lived independently, it’s important to respect that they have their own way of doing things. Successful co-habitation requires openness to new ideas, respect for individual differences, and talking about expectations for how to share space and resources.
Come up with creative ways to share the work. Household tasks are never 50-50 in families but if everybody helps out, it’s possible for things to feel fair! Communal living can bring fresh energy in to the household. With the right attitude, life can become more fun and interesting for everyone. During the 10 months when our grown children lived with us, each couple took turns cooking dinner and each tried to top the other in gourmet recipes. The food got better, our kitchen began to feel like a restaurant, and then we all joined the gym! But while we took turns cleaning up after dinner, we were careful not to “keep score”. We agreed that it was everyone’s job to maintain some level of order and help out continuously.
Problems should be aired quickly and respectfully. Don’t let problems simmer, but do take time to cool down before expressing a complaint. It’s easy to step on each other’s toes. When it comes to sharing time and space under the same roof, this arrangement can be equally stressful for both couples. While it’s not easy to open your home to others and sacrifice privacy, it’s also not easy for adult children move into their parents’ home and give up their independence, no matter how temporary.
The old expression “Treat you friends like family and your family like friends” suggests that treating your new “roommates” with the same manners you would extend to guests works better than expecting or demanding their help. When it works, living with adult children and their partners allows families to blend naturally and develop new sources of intergenerational support. In our case, I am truly grateful for the ten months our family spent living together. The experience allowed us time to get to know our daughter as a grownup, married woman and time to get to know our son-in-law, who now feels much more like a son. Opening your doors to family, whether for short or for longer periods of time, can offer unexpected benefits to all.
©Copyright, 2012, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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