In my first post here, I mentioned that my boyfriend and I would be living with family for the month of May while we wait for our apartment to come available in June. What I didn’t say is that this family member is my boyfriend’s mom. Don’t get me wrong, she’s sweet beyond belief, welcoming, accepting of our relationship, and wonderful for allowing us to be month-long guests in her home, but living with family, especially that isn’t your own, can bring a whole new set of challenges. With more and more people moving back with family after being away for college for four or more years, it seems that sharing some of the wisdom I’ve developed in the past few weeks will be beneficial.
1. Talk about potential problems as they arise.
In any living situation where you share space, it is important to be open and honest early on when problems arise. Otherwise, frustrations build and eventually explode into one big ugly mess. So to avoid catastrophe and hurt feelings, talk about problems as they arise. That’s not to say that every small thing that gets on your nerves should turn into a discussion, but honesty goes a long way. In my and my boyfriend’s case, things could become uncomfortable because we’ve been living together for almost a year and now we are living together with his mom. We may be comfortable with our open displays of affection or staying up until the early hours of the morning, but for his mom those things can be awkward and annoying. The last thing you want to do is make someone uncomfortable in his or her own home. So talk. As issues come up, we just have a quick talk about them and then move on with our lives. This makes the situation so much more relaxing for everyone involved.
2. Set and accept boundaries.
After time away from home, you’ve grown and changed and most likely consider yourself an adult. Your parent or relative may not see it that way. A good rule of thumb is to set boundaries that you are both comfortable with and hold to them. Remember, the last time you lived with your parent you still lived by their rules and lifestyle, but in just a few short years you’ve developed your own rules and lifestyle, so, of course, confrontations are going to happen. For example, you might be used to inviting friends over whenever you like. There is no need for permission when you are living on your own, but to your family member this might be a huge invasion of space and show lack of consideration of their feelings and lifestyle. So to avoid power struggles, set boundaries together. And be willing to compromise. This doesn’t mean that you should accept fault in every issue or compromise to the point of your own extreme discomfort. Remember compromise works both ways; it’s all about give and take.
3. Discuss any financial obligations early.
An area that can cause major problems when living with family is the topic of money. In order to keep those problems at bay, you should discuss your financial obligations, if any, early. Otherwise, they may have expectations that you didn’t budget for or see coming or they might feel that you are just taking advantage of the fact that they are family. With everyone you’ve ever lived with since adulthood, financial contributions have been discussed initially so do the same with family. It may seem like an unnecessary formality, but it can be discussed lightly and it will definitely clear the air for any misunderstandings.
4. Pitch in and help out.
When you are living with family you are not a guest, so don’t act like one. Are the dishes dirty? Then wash them. Is there laundry piling up? Then throw a load into the washing machine. Pitch in with cooking and cleanup if you are sharing meals with the family. Little things like that are a big help and instantly show that you care.
5. Be courteous and grateful.
A big thing to remember is that your family member has been kind enough to allow you to stay in his or her home, so always be grateful and courteous. There is no rule that says you can move in with family when times get rough or because you made a mistake, so don’t take their graciousness for granted. Make sure they are aware that you appreciate the help and hospitality. However, family lending you a helping hand doesn’t mean you are forever in their debt. If a circumstance arises where you feel that you are made to feel guilty for needing extra help, then head back to point one and talk out those problems.
These are just a few of the things that have really helped in my own situation of living with family, especially family that isn’t really my own. Perhaps they will help you navigate those sometimes uncomfortable situations. Feel free to share your own advice below!