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Under one roof again…all grown up and (re)learning to live together happily

By Susan Newman, Ph.D

Adapted from the author’s book “Under One Roof Again” (Lyons Press) Read the review >>

Multigenerational families are making a comeback.  Offspring are not viewed as “failures” or parents as “enablers” when adult children return to the nest. These days, in fact, families are reuniting under one roof in record numbers. Independence is no longer the “gold standard.” The stigma of adult children of any age returning home or living with parents in their house (or yours) has vanished.  (Click to read the entire article)

The old term “boomerang kids” referred to college grads who returned home to live. Now a “boomeranger” is as likely to be a 50-year-old parent, a 75-year-old grandparent, a midlife adult with a family in tow or a 28-year-old trying to figure out what she or he wants to do next.

As of last year, the U.S. Census Bureau and the AARP estimated the number of multigenerational households at 6.2 million and growing. For the most part, family members who move in together enjoy their lives–and their lives are made less stressful and more manageable by the new living arrangements.

That’s especially true for 20-somethings. It is emotionally easier for them to live with their parents than it was, say, for young people in the 1960’s and 70’s. The reason: parents today tend to be savvier, more aware and more understanding of their adult children’s struggles. There is still a generation gap, but it’s less divisive.

Together again: the challenges

Every family has unique issues that make life as an adult nuclear family interesting and, at times, taxing. For example, siblings not living in the household may feel left out, or they may assume that the brother or sister at home is taking financial advantage. Some conflicts are based on generational preferences, such as playing loud music or constantly talking or texting on a cell phone. Many parents also find it difficult to ease off on parenting.

Like anything new and different, it takes time to adjust to living together under one roof again. It’s important to be patient. Relationships typically progress and improve as family members get used to each other. And whether you’re the parent or the adult child, you’ll want to have some talks before the move (probably more than one) to ease or prevent conflicts down the road. In your talks, explore thoughtfully what everyone thinks will happen.

Share your expectations

Tackle the major issues upfront. Let everyone know the parameters: How long will you (or they) stay? Who will contribute financially? How much? Who does what to help out?

Discuss seemingly minor issues, too. Often, little things that aren’t mentioned early on can become a source of irritation. Take on the nitty-gritty such as what you eat or don’t, what’s yours and what’s not in the refrigerator, who feeds the cat or walks the dog and who drives whom to work if people share cars.

Openness in your initial talks is a good barometer of how well you will be able to communicate with each other going forward. As you will discover, there’s a huge difference between now and when you lived together as parent and child or as siblings.

In many ways, it can be better. You can have a real dialogue of the sort you may have been unable to have back then. When their kids were growing up, many parents tended to talk at them rather than with them. As adults, you can make these into two-way conversations.

Pushing those buttons

As grownups living together in the same house, you are likely to view your entire relationship differently. Life experiences have probably broadened your  perspective, raised your tolerance level and altered your needs.

Even so, hot-button issues will arise. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns: parents who treat adult children like kids and adult children who act like 10-year-olds and want their parents to take care of them again.

Whether you’re an adult child or a parent, it helps to look back and ask yourself if there’s a pattern that needs breaking. Are you perpetuating a cycle of babying that your parents started? Or that you started years ago?

It’s not impossible to love people and also try to run their lives. With mobile phones, e-mail and texting, parents who want to organize their adult children’s lives–or adult children who want to keep tabs on their folks–can do so without much difficulty.

If you’re on the receiving end of this behavior, run through a quick checklist before you respond:

Is she well-intentioned?

Is he overreacting?

Am I overreacting?

Am I being too sensitive?

Am I being fair?

Short-circuiting criticism

Sensitivity runs high for an unemployed parent or adult child who may need to retrain or explore alternative avenues. For example, just wanting to be helpful, you might ask to look over the job-seeker’s resume. But your offer may be interpreted as criticism.

Parents and their adult offspring often continue to assess each other’s appearance, career or life style. A mom might say, “Are you sure you want to wear that tight top to Aunt Ingrid’s party?” Daughters can be harsh in their comments too: “Mother, really. Get rid of those granny shoes.”

If it starts to feel like family members are crossing a line with their comments, you might try one of these responses: “I feel like you’re judging me when you say things like that.” Or “You may not be aware of it, but you’re hurting my feelings.” Or “Sometimes I feel as if I can’t do anything right.”

Think before you speak

Living together will allow you to say and do many things that may be better left alone. Think before you blurt out something you know the other person is sensitive about. Be aware that your opinion may be interpreted as criticism. Make light of behaviors that get to you by turning them into a shared joke. Act like the grown-ups you are.

If you’re the adult child living back home

You may have been a forgetful and self-centered teenager. But you’ve come a long way. Trouble is, you parents may still see you as that ”other person.”

When you’re living together under one roof, it’s important to show your parents the new you. A good place to start is to ask them sincerely for their advice. You might also:

Pitch in more. Complete chores without being asked, and do what’s asked of you in good time and in good humor.

Don’t take your parents for granted. Say ”thank you” often for all things provided.

Clean up after yourself–and then some. Do a little more than people expect you to do.

Anticipate the needs of others. Call on the way home to see if you should pick up groceries or dry cleaning. If you use a parent’s car, fill the gas tank.

Be thoughtful. Alert your parent that the other parent’s birthday is coming up.

Surprise people. Make or buy someone’s favorite dessert. Or give a technology lesson if you’re the expert in such things.

Step up for big chores. Tell a parent to relax and take it easy—that you’ll mow the lawn, scrub the floor and wash the car.

Bring home flowers—for no reason. Trim the stems, put the bouquet in a vase and clean up after yourself.

Offer to add more to your weekly or monthly contribution when you can—and before you are asked. No paycheck? Offer to provide a helpful service.

Take the initiative in your free time to fix something—a broken railing, loose screw. Offer to clean the garage or paint a room that could use sprucing up.

* * *


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