Making the most of living with extended family

Donna Southard, MA, LCPC, Family Therapist 1/8/13
Making the most of living with extended family

In current times, more and more people are pooling their resources together and living with extended family members.  Some of the reasons include financial assistance, childcare, and providing care for elderly or sickly family members.  Whatever the reason, living with one’s family can be a great experience if approached with the right mindset.  However, if expectations, financial agreements, and general house rules are not laid out beforehand, the lack of communication can lead to disagreements or worst case scenario severed ties. Therefore, open and honest communication between all parties is essential to keep the home front a happy and welcome place.

I spent a period of my life living in a home with 4 generations!  I remember when my daughter was born and loving to watch my 88-year-old grandmother care for her.  It was the first time in awhile in which she felt needed, along with the fact that she loved snuggling in that rocking chair to feed that beautiful baby!  Weekend family dinners, live in babysitters, the sharing of household responsibilities were all great perks of such a living arrangement.  However, as time went on many problems also arose.  Financial responsibilities became unbalanced, important decisions were made without consulting all parties, and  tensions built due to lack of good communication.  Therefore, here are some helpful suggestions to follow when making the decision to live with extended family members:

Set clear boundaries for space, privacy, child rearing, etc.  I was fortunate that my home was set up with related living quarters, (sometimes referred to as “in-law suites”), which allowed for privacy and some needed separation, that often became a lifesaver.  Whatever living arrangements are made it will be important to discuss some basic ground rules. 

Be respectful of each other’s need for privacy, such as knock before entering a room, do not assume it is OK to go through each others personal things, discuss having company over, allowing someone else to stay in the home, along with anything else that will impact other members of the household. 

Have clear expectations for financial and household chore and maintenance tasks.  Meaning have a specific agreement as to who will be paying which bills and how much.  Is it a 50/50 split on all bills, or will you designate specific expenses to a specific person.  Also, decide on how to share household responsibilities.  Who is going to do which inside and outside duties, so that all parties are actively working together.  This area can lead to much conflict if clear cut expectations are not agreed upon.

Lastly, if children are involved, make sure everyone is on the same page with parenting.  Having multiple generations will usually mean differing parenting styles.  If it is your child, discuss with your family how you would like such things as meals, bedtimes, playtime activities, and discipline approached, so that all members are working together, rather than against each other.

Living with others is always a challenge, and because it’s family do not expect for it to be easier.  So have open communication, set expectations of one another, and show mutual respect.  With those components you can have a win/win living situation!

Donna Southard is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Indiana and works at New Leaf Resources.  Her areas of specialization include family and marital relational issues, adolescent treatment issues, stress and adjustment issues, child separation and adoption, self-esteem, coping with chronic illness, families dealing with addiction, among others. New Leaf Resources is a nonprofit counseling center with offices in Lansing, IL, Crown Point and Wheatfield, IN.  For more information, call (708) 895-7310 or visit www.newleafresources.org.

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