Ask Ann Cannon: When adult children move back home, how do we all get along?

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • Our daughter, her husband and their baby are planning to move in with us while he finishes his graduate degree. All of us get along well, but I’ll confess — I’m a little worried about things. I don’t want our relationships to be damaged in any way, which (I realize) is a real possibility with all of us living under the same roof. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for helping us to make this arrangement work? Thank you.

Is This a Bad Idea?

Dear Is This a Bad Idea • Because we’ve never had married children move back in with us (yet), I asked for advice from people who have. I was surprised, frankly, by the range of responses. Some felt the experience was ultimately a positive one; others maintained having married children move in SHOULD BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS!

Everyone agreed, however, that the situation presents unique challenges and that things work best when adults behave — you know — like adults. Which isn’t always easy!

Meanwhile, the following strategies can be helpful.

1. Keep the lines of communication open. It helps if the communication is conducted in as positive and respectful manner as possible. And remember that listening — desiring to know what another person really thinks — is an important part of communicating effectively.

2. Set expectations beforehand. I like what a Facebook friend said about the experience of having a daughter and her husband move in with her. “We had several conversations prior to making the decision — about personal and shared space, boundaries, rent, etc. It was helpful to set clear expectations on both sides. ... It was an emotional balancing act, but worked out really well. Honest, loving ongoing communication, even if it was hard, made it a really good experience overall.”

3. Be willing to revisit those expectations. While it’s important to discuss the arrangement upfront, you don’t always know what issues and/or needs are going to arise down the road. Be flexible when it comes to the expectations you’ve set.

4. Don’t make assumptions. Adult children shouldn’t assume that Mom and Dad are baked-in babysitters, just as Dad and Mom shouldn’t assume that adult children are on call 24/7 to do their bidding. As another Facebook friend noted: “If you feel like someone owes you, you’re not actually being generous.” Rule of thumb? Ask in advance. Don’t assume.

5. Beware of falling into old family patterns. When our boys gather for holidays or Sunday dinners, I sometimes feel like they turn back into those kids who used to spend a lot of time beating each other up. While clearing the furniture and watching them have at it can be mildly amusing for about two hours, I wouldn’t want to relive their teenage years again if they all moved in with me and their father. In other words, behave and treat each other like you’re autonomous adults who are able and willing to shoulder adult responsibilities.

6. Give one another both physical and emotional space. This is especially hard if space is limited. But to the extent everyone can have a corner to call his/her own, all the better. Spend time apart, as well as together.

7. View the arrangement as an opportunity for everyone to grow. Remember that while growth is rarely easy, it’s worth it.

8. Finally, embrace the fact that everyone is different. What works for one family may not work for another. Commit to finding strategies that work for you and yours.

Good luck!

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.