It happens to a majority of parents. When the kids grow up, they get married and return to live with you for a time. It may be just for a few weeks, several months, or even years. My son and daughter-in-law recently moved out of our house after living with us for ten months. Honestly, we loved having them here, and they loved it, too. Of course, we all prefer having our own homes, but given the circumstances, we all got along great.
One day, one of my daughter-in-law's friends heard she was living with her in-laws and was ready and eager to sympathize. "Oh, no!" Bonnie said. "It's not like that. We really love each other and are having a lot of fun living under the same roof." Her friend was surprised, then asked for tips on how to make such an arrangement work. She and her husband were soon going to be in the same situation.
Bonnie and I talked about that very thing soon after. What made our situation work? We'd never really thought about it before. So here are a few things we came up with.
- Set clear expectations before you live together. How much rent will be charged, if any? Who will buy groceries? How will household chores be divided? Yard work? What about pets? If children, how much babysitting will Grandpa and Grandma do? Set clear boundaries before the living situation begins, especially for issues you feel could become problems.
- Remember that you're two separate families. Don't feel like you have to spend your evenings and meals together unless you really want the extra company.
- Make your own meals. No one should have to cook for the other unless you want to. There were times I made a big slow cooker meal and invited our kids to help us eat it. Or Bonnie, who is a much better cook than I am, would make something and ask if she could make enough for us, too. But most often, we cooked or ate out separately. That made the times we ate together more special.
- Clean up after yourselves. No one likes cleaning up after others. Actually, I should have left off the last two words in the previous sentence. But it's even worse when you're cleaning up someone else's mess. Resentment can build and you don't need that. Enough said.
- Respect one another. I realize this is a kindergarten classroom rule, but sometimes in families, we get lax. Don't put your TV volume up so high it bothers those watching in the next room. Don't hog the bathroom. Use common courtesy as you would with any other guest.
- Practice kindness. I tried to do my laundry while my grown kids were at work so the washer and dryer would be available to them when they were home. If I forgot my laundry in the dryer, they were kind enough to unload it into the basket for me without complaining. I sometimes put their wet laundry in the dryer for them. These small kindnesses (and many others!) went a long way toward living peacefully together.
- Give each other warning when company's coming. We host a lot of social events at our house. Often they're family gatherings, but sometimes they're church events. I'd tell the kids when such an event was happening and they'd make sure their bathroom, which was the main one our guests would use, was clean before that day arrived. Or if they were having friends over, they'd let us know in advance, just out of courtesy. I loved the day I came home and found my daughter-in-law at the kitchen table with three of her girlfriends working on Christmas crafts. It was wonderful to have them there, but even better that I knew they were coming. The glitter I found on the floor despite their best efforts to sweep it up made me smile weeks later with every sparkle.
- Work together. There were times when one of us would be out longer than expected and needed help caring for our pets. We were glad to let each other's dogs out or feed them if needed to make the other's life easier and relieve a bit of stress. Or when I couldn't be home for the pest control man to come and spray, they'd be there to let him in. Help each other out however you can.
- Find common bonds. This was one of the unexpected joys of living with my daughter-in-law. We found lots of things we both loved to do and it strengthened our relationship. Because I'm the only coffee drinker in my family, I now had someone to enjoy a cup of coffee with in the morning. We also had a mutual love for the newspaper puzzles and worked together on them. Oh yeah, and we share a ridiculous love for my son!
- Offer grace. There will be times when things don't feel as smooth and stress-free as you'd like. People get tired and irritable. The stress of living together may make the walls feel like they're closing in. At those times, offer grace. Ask if you can do anything to help the other. Leave a surprise for them where they'll see it. Give an extra hug. Listen and empathize. Or simply stay out of each other's way, giving the extra space that's needed.
- Laugh. This might be the most important point of all. When things go right, laugh. When things go wrong, laugh. Laugh when you and your grown children are pressed close together and when you see each other across the room. Keep life light. Make family jokes. Don't take yourself or each other too seriously. You'll be amazed at how much joy a belly laugh can bring and how stress runs and hides at the sound of laughter.
I pray your experience of living with your grown children, and perhaps even grandchildren, is as pleasant and joy-filled as ours was. Sprinkle it liberally with love and open affection. You'll have memories to last a lifetime.