Adult children back in the nest
The economic downturn is one reason families are combining households.
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Before relatives move in, a group e-mail or conference call can bring everyone together for a discussion. After they arrive, Goyer says, it's important to hold family conferences. Even seemingly small issues such as a grandparent turning up the TV volume or a teenage grandchild playing loud music can cause tension, Goyer notes. Parents, she finds, often feel stuck in the middle. "They're trying to keep kids happy and grandparents happy."Skip to next paragraph
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Other issues arise when siblings share a nest. Last October, Barbara Hagin of Palo Alto, Calif., made room for her sister, a massage therapist who moved from the East Coast. "She expected to be on her feet by the end of the year," Ms. Hagin says. "She has the opportunity to work here and there, but I don't see how it's going to be very easy to pay the rent and bills on her own."
She adds, "Inserting another person in the mix has changed our lifestyle. We do try to include her. It's like having an adoptive, fully grown daughter." (Her sister is 10 years younger.) Yet Hagin finds positive aspects to their shared housing. She and her sister have grown closer. She also praises her husband for his role, saying, "He's terrific. He's very supportive."
So is Hagin. "If I were in her shoes, I would appreciate the same kindness," she says. "I want to be supportive more than anything else." At the same time, she is uncertain how much longer they will be able to support her sister.
"I want her to save her money and be in a strong position to move out," she says. "I want to see her flourish and grow. But I can't conceive of her being ready to leave the nest for at least a few more months."
For Tree, who lightheartedly refers to her living arrangement with her mother as "two hens in a nest," one secret to harmony is simple: "Basically we try not to step on one another's feet by giving space needed to each other."
Many families also find that appreciation helps to minimize challenges. In January, Frances Sales and her 8-year-old daughter moved in with her brother and his family in Lake Worth, Fla. Her husband is in Brazil, awaiting an immigration decision to return legally to the United States. In his absence, she is looking for a job. Before the recession, she worked as a receptionist and a secretary. Now, she says, "I'll do anything – cleaning house, taking care of kids."
Ms. Sales and her daughter share a bedroom. "I usually make dinner and we all eat together," she says. "My brother and sister-in-law, they're great. My brother has two more mouths to feed. I thank God that we get along. I love them very much and thank them for helping me."
Whatever circumstances cause a family to double up, Caine encourages people to enjoy their time together and be flexible. "Mistakes will happen. Things will break. People won't remember to do a chore or call.... Lower your expectations. Put love and family first, not control."
Goyer also takes a positive approach, saying, "Look at it as not that you've lost something, but that you've gained a unique opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level."
How to live in harmony
Parenting expert Susan Newman offers these tips to avoid potential conflicts and hurt feelings:
•Make sure financial contributions are clearly defined so there's no misunderstanding. If a timeline is in order for when your financial help may stop, make one. This keeps everyone hopeful and moving in the same direction.
• Discuss everyone's expectations for how the new living arrangements will work so no one is disappointed. Say no to demands and jobs you feel would take advantage of you.
• Go over basics: Who will do the grocery shopping or the laundry? How much are you expected to baby-sit or car pool? Think a request through before you commit to it.
• Don't allow tension or resentment to build. If you are upset about something or someone seems annoyed with you, discuss it as soon as possible.
• Be wary of slipping back into the parent-child role, telling your adult offspring what to do or criticizing him or her. The same applies if you are the adult child moving in with parents.