I wasn’t surprised to learn that adult children are moving back home as a consequence of the pandemic.  Of course, multi-generational homes aren’t exactly new news. When my mom and dad first got married, they lived with my grandmother. When the recession hit in 2009, my nephew had no choice but to move his wife and kids to the in-laws’ house.  In 2022, with housing costs out of reach for so many, family living situations are changing to accommodate the economy.  

There are many challenges to face in a multi-generational home.  It’s unavoidable that a change in your routine, in your situation, and in theirs, will result in conflict. There’s no such thing as smooth sailing along these waters.

My job is to help you avoid the tsunami.

Remember when, as a child, you had to share a room with your brother or sister? Did you fight about the most trivial of things? Did you stretch a string divider across the middle of your room, or make a duct tape line on the floor? Did you touch her stuff just to piss her off? Did you throw your dirty clothes on his bed? Now think about your first apartment, your first dorm room, your first roommate. I suspect you talked about the refrigerator, the thermostat, and the utility bills.

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Once the decision is made to join domestic forces with other family members, it’s a good idea to establish some ground rules. Schedule a series of brief family meetings and stick to just one topic for each meeting. Remember to invite and involve everyone, even the children.  Each member of the household should have an equal voice in creating some rules for peaceful co-existence. If it’s important to you that no one leaves the lights on all day, say something. Write it down. If it’s important to your father that the television volume is adjusted to compensate for his loss of hearing, ask that he respect the sleep routines of others, and/or invest in a pair of headphones. If everyone is contributing to the household finances, have a budget meeting. Go over the details, make agreements, and write them down.

And while you’re all coexisting, please try to identify some common goals. I’m sure that everyone wants to live in peace, and that each family member wants to feel respected and valued. In one of your ground rule meetings, ask your family members to say in a word what family means to them. Make a list of all the words and keep it on the refrigerator door or paint the list on the wall in your dining room. 

From time to time, please take your family’s temperature. What’s working? What needs improvement? Just as a sailor needs to make adjustments in accordance with the wind, so does the multi-generational family. Stay communicating, commit to flexibility, and above all, read the words painted on your dining room wall.