Did you know that one in five American adults are living with their parents or in-laws, and more than 27 million are living in three-generational households? And here’s the kicker: it’s often by choice! In fact, there are so many advantages to multigenerational living that until recent history, most families did it.
So, if your parents or in-laws are moving in, don’t panic. There are a lot of advantages mixed in with the challenges of living with your older relatives. You’ll get some free babysitting if you have kids, some financial help if you need it and they can afford it, trustworthy but often unsolicited advice, and sometimes even cooking help and help with other household chores. In addition, to these obvious perks, studies have found that when grandparents are around, children usually do better at school (because there are more adults around to help them with homework), are less likely to be delinquent (there are more eyes to watch them), and less likely to have anxiety problems (more caretakers to step in if you are busy or ill).
But living with your parents or in-laws is not just a family walk in the park. If it’s your parents who are moving in, they know how to push your buttons (because they’ve installed them). If it’s your in-laws, they have a longer history with your partner than you do — and they may flaunt it. And constant company makes it hard not to feel crowded when you want to be alone. Here are some strategies that can help:
1. Be realistic.
If you’ve never really gotten along with your parents or in-laws, don’t expect anything to suddenly change now. You may be doing the ‘right’ thing, but if you're all going to be miserable living together, talk together about other options. If there are no other good options, unpack the emotional baggage before moving day. Can you accept them as a package deal? Is it possible to understand what they’re saying and realize that the advice they’re giving is about them, not always about you? If the answer is yes, give it a try.
2. Try to get to know your parents or your in-laws as people, not just your older relatives.
After all, the generation gap in a multigenerational household is gone. We pretty much all hear the same music, watch the same TV shows, go to the movies, and wear the same styles. Your parents or in-laws may be divorcing, dating, dancing, remarrying, texting, shopping online, and working, just like you. There’s no script for adult child-parent relationships anymore. We all have to work it out for ourselves.
3. Try to see parents or in-laws moving in as merging households and talk about responsibilities up front so they are not confused, and you are not resentful.
Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your mother or mother-in-law to read your mind, or to automatically say “yes” to whatever you ask of her. If you start with asking what they are offering, the conversation usually goes more smoothly.
4. Talk about finances up front, too.
The topic is usually emotional, so get it over with before anyone moves in. The majority of multi-generational families are living together because the adult children, not the grandparents, need financial support. But that may not be true in your case.
5. Talk about interests and attitudes you share, and avoid discussion of those you don’t.
This is also good advice for friendships and marriages. You don't have to agree on politics or religion, you just need to agree to disagree at times. And if you think you absolutely have to say something negative, wait until you have a non-critical suggestion for making it better.
6. Tell them up front about topics that make you uncomfortable.
If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, for example, you might want to let them know that you feel upset when you hear about other people’s kids or grandchildren, or about seemingly magical cures for infertility. Make sure you also ask for their list of tough topics and steer clear. You may be the younger generation, but sometimes you will need to lead the way.
7. Treat your family like your friends.
With friends, you probably have more patience and will listen to them much more objectively than you might with someone in the family. Treating your family like your friends just might make multigenerational living easier for everyone.
Of course, every family dynamic will be different, so it’s important to recognize what works for your family might not work for your friends or co-workers. Work towards understanding each other and being upfront about certain situations and topics, and create your own design for living together.