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. When my friend April’s father had a stroke, she brought him to her own home, and even gave him the master bedroom.
Whatever the reason for your multi-generational home, I feel safe to say that there are challenges to face, and often times, tongues to bite. 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. Did you talk about what’s in the refrigerator, having overnight guests, or the utility bills?
Once the decision is made to join domestic forces with other family members, I think 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 a three-year-old has an opinion, right? This isn’t a board room, it’s a family. 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 the others, and/or invest in a pair of headphones. If everyone is contributing to the household budget, have a budget meeting. Go over the details, make agreements, and write them down.
And while you’re all adjusting to this situation, please try to identify some common goals. I’m guessing 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. I’ve even seen the creation of a Family Mission Statement, one that was literally painted on the dining room wall.
Above all, I’d suggest taking the family’s temperature from time-to-time. What’s working? What needs re-working? 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.