Bedtimes, no running on the stairs, veggies before dessert. Your parents’ house rules weren’t exactly fun growing up. Now that you’re moved out and on your own, you can see where they were coming from — and you’ve established a few guidelines of your own. But what you didn’t expect? That your rules would now apply to Mom and Dad.
Increasingly often, parents are moving in with their kids. And for 33% of Millennials, that’s a big worry. More than half of Americans believe there should be some space (ideally 15 to 45 minutes of driving) between their home and their parent’s or in-law’s place. But the realities of life have a way of closing that gap.
That’s where establishing healthy boundaries with your family comes in, whether they’re across town, around the block, or living in your home. Here’s how.
Family meeting: We need to talk.
You or your spouse’s parents may move in with you or live nearby for myriad reasons. It could be because of their health, so they can help watch the kids, for financial reasons (their retirement savings aren’t as healthy as they’d hoped), because doing so is part of your cultural heritage, or simply because it’s your hometown, and who wouldn’t want to live there? But no matter the circumstance, establishing open communication early on will make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.
While you might feel a little awkward making rules for Mom and Dad, this conversation doesn’t have to involve fighting or hurt feelings. But it can require patience, kindness, empathy, and honesty to make it a positive experience for everyone. It’s all about finding a balance of space and closeness, independence, and dependability.
When you talk about boundaries with your family, be clear about how you feel and what you want. For example, if your parents are moving to your town, you may prefer they don’t live on your street. Or, if your in-laws are moving into your house, it might mean you’re asking that they respect your children’s bedtime.
If you can, try to be as specific as possible. Setting firm limits will help avoid confusion or misunderstandings in the future. (You can always soften them later on, if things are going smoothly.) So, instead of saying, “I’d like you to let me know before coming over,” you could try, “I’d really appreciate for you to give me a head’s up at least an hour before you come over.”
Keep in mind, your parents or in-laws will likely have their own wishes, and it’s important to listen to and respect them, as well. A two-sided discussion that takes into account both parties’ wants and needs will make living together (or nearby) a much easier transition and can help you avoid frustration later down the line.
Physical Breathing Room
Whether they’re living down the street or in the guestroom downstairs, setting physical boundaries with your family is essential — especially if personal space or alone time is a priority for you.
If they live with you, try to give your parents or in-laws their own space in your home. When possible, provide space beyond a bedroom — somewhere to read, watch TV, and/or work. Doing so can help make everyone more comfortable and avoid facing too much time fighting for room on the couch.
When family isn’t sharing your living space, physical parameters may look different. Maybe you offer windows of time or days of the week that work best for your schedule to have them over. Or, in return for hosting them for dinner a few nights a week, you could ask them to babysit your kids one night during the weekend.
Mental and Emotional Boundaries
You might not mind if your mom comes in your room to make your bed in the morning, but you do feel triggered if she asks you questions about your financial life, for example. In a case like this, you may have to set parameters around discussions or actions to keep your peace of mind.
Your parents will always be your parents — but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be treated like a child forever. Putting limitations on conversational topics like home-keeping practices or parenting styles can be necessary to ensure a healthy relationship and avoid conflict when you’re sharing close quarters. When setting topical guidelines, be clear and firm about what kind of discussions you are and aren’t willing to have.
Space for Your Lifestyle
While you probably won’t have to worry about them staying out all hours of the night or throwing a crazy party while you’re out of the house, you might still want to establish some house rules to ensure everyone is on the same page if your parents or in-laws move in.
Of course, mi casa es su casa. But don’t be afraid to play boss sometimes. Lifestyle asks could include things like not leaving dishes on the counter, bedtimes, acceptable TV volume, drinking in front of the kids, etc. Establishing standards around the house can be a helpful way to make sure your way of living doesn’t drastically change when extended members of the family move in.
You might want to also create boundaries to ensure neither you and your parents or in-laws feel taken advantage of, whether that’s financially or in another way. While you might not expect your family to pay you rent, you could ask them to help out with household chores. Or, if your mother lives nearby and watches your children while you and your spouse are at work, you could offer to mow her grass every weekend and help out with her groceries. Creating a system that mutually benefits both of you can help make sure tension or resentment doesn’t arise on either side.
Related: How to Talk to Your Parents About Money
When your parents or in-laws live with you, it doesn’t have to feel like your teenage years all over again. Remember to be honest, specific, and firm about the space you need, whether physical, mental, or lifestyle based. And when you’re having the conversation, be open to hearing what kind of expectations they may have — because these conversations aren’t a hostile exercise — they’re a necessary practice to ensure healthy relationships.
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