Here’s a good conversation starter: my mom lives with us. Usually when I put that information out into the world, I get these types of responses:
- Is there something wrong with her?
- How does that work?
- How long will she stay with you?
In suburban middle class America, it’s weird. Like we need some sort of excuse for this situation to exist.
We do have our excuses. My mom moved in almost three years ago, right after my third child was born. She has a chronic health condition and needed to step down from her full-time job. At the time, all of her grandkids were my kids. Since she wanted to be closer to them (and us), she packed up her life, moved 1500 miles and landed in our basement. Now she works part time and helps me around the house.
It started as a temporary arrangement. I’m not sure what to call it now—temp to perm maybe? It’s working for us.
I’m writing this post because I think this happens more frequently than we might think. It’s an arrangement that is challenging on many levels. When I tell some people about it, they incredulously say, “Wow, that would never work for us.”
But sometimes there aren’t any other good options. So you have to make it work.
Whether you’re under the same roof as your parents for a week, a month, a year or indefinitely, you have to have some strategies, particularly about boundaries within your home and healthy communication. Being smart and proactive will reduce your stress tremendously. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned.
9 Tips for How To Survive Cohabitation With Your Parent(s):
- Your nuclear family is separate.
My mom will always be my mom, but she is not my caregiver anymore. If you are an adult and you are capable of taking care of yourself, the dynamic with your parents changes. This understanding has to be clear on both sides.
This principle extends to every other member of the family; my mom is not the acting parent to me, my husband or my children. She is more like a roommate (who knows us very, very, very well). But Marc and I are the authority figures to our children. While they are to respect their grandmother, she defers to us when it comes to parenting decisions.
Every week, my husband and kids and I have a family night. My mom eats dinner with us but then usually retreats into her room while we watch a movie. While she would be welcome to join us, I appreciate that she gives us space as our own separate unit.
- The marriage comes first.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife…” (Genesis 2:24). If you are married, that relationship takes priority. With a parent around, this can get tricky. Figure out what times the two of you can be together alone, sans kids, sans parents (at least there’s a babysitter available!). As a general rule, I am pretty private about our marriage issues. It is awkward if Marc and I are arguing and my mom knows all the details. Keep the parents out of it.
Also vital: you and your spouse have to be in agreement about how the arrangement is working; otherwise it puts a lot of strain on the marriage. Communicate!
- Don’t abuse the babysitting privilege.
I am so grateful to have my mom’s help. But she already raised kids. I check in with her to make sure she’s okay with each and every time I ask for babysitting.
- Communicate financial expectations.
In our home, my mom pays room and board. She gives us a flat monthly rate, and that works fine for us (I’d miss that help now if it were to disappear!). I buy all of the groceries and household goods, although she regularly buys us “treats” I might not get. Like things that start with “S” and end with “tarbucks.”
If you’re in a long-term cohabitation arrangement, it’s wise to have some kind of payment or reimbursement system that everyone agrees to. There was a transitional period about five years ago when we lived in my in-laws’ house for a few months. They were gracious enough to let us live there rent-free, but we bought food and tried not to be freeloaders.
- Communicate household expectations.
Just like with any roommate, you probably need to make some rules about upkeep. My mom typically takes out the garbage, picks up our mail, and does all of our laundry. Try to contain your jealousy. She also chips in with other cleaning opportunities when she’s up for it. She’s generally tidier than I am, and I rarely go into her living space, so it works.
Communicating about schedules can also be very important. We keep everyone’s appointments on the same calendar and talk about who’s going to be home and when.
- Resist the urge to devolve into a teenager.
I was kind of a brat in as a teen, and apparently my old attitudes are resurrected fairly quickly by my one and only mother. I have to remind myself to be kind and considerate and not flip out when I’m feeling annoyed. Get over yourself.
- Separate spaces are really important.
My mom has her own room, which is big enough for a couch and a TV, as well as her own bathroom. The only spaces we have to share are the kitchen and dining room. This helps solidify the “we are a separate family” concept.
- Spend “quality time” together.
Occasionally my mom and I need to go out to have coffee together and just enjoy each other’s company. Otherwise we have this weird “roommate” relationship and forget that we actually love each other.
- Be completely honest.
My mom and I have had some hard talks in order to figure out what our expectations in the relationship and the household are. These were only productive when we were honest and respectful. We’ve been working on this relationship for a long time—my whole life—and we’ve come a long way.
I know this is where it can break down for a lot of people. But don’t give up. When you’re not open about the way you’re feeling, the resentment builds until the arrangement simply isn’t sustainable any longer.
I love my mom and I’m thankful that she’s been involved in our lives in this unusual way. I know my kids treasure the closeness they have with her, and I have the opportunity to build a unique adult relationship with her. We don’t know how much longer this arrangement will last, but we’re glad we can make it work.
Who else cohabitates with their parents? Or other family members? What has your experience taught you?
Do you know anyone who is wrestling the issues that come with parental cohabitation? Share this post using the buttons below—I help it helps!