Moving back to the East Coast after living and working in Los Angeles, Roger knew the transition would land him back in his family home in Edison, N.J. “I was still looking for a job, so I couldn’t waste my savings on rent,” he says. But it wasn’t his parents he had to contend with, it was his older sister, Marie.
“She had taken over the mortgage from our parents, who relocated down to Florida. She was living there with her boyfriend and two kids.” Roger’s sister gladly opened the family doors, but once they closed, things got very awkward.
While Roger, 35, expected to do some chores around the home to earn his stay, asking him to chauffeur his nephew to every after school activity and play guinea pig for his niece’s makeup parties were a bit much.
And then there was Marie’s boyfriend.
“He pretty much felt the need to prove that he was the alpha male in the home. He was always challenging me to something – a video game or fixing a broken washing machine.”
Roger lasted two months before he moved out. “I would rather couch surf at some of my old buddy’s places then stay in that environment.”
Dr. Deanna Brann, a clinical psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related Revisited, isn’t surprised that Roger fled. “I usually tell people ‘don’t’,” she says of moving back home. “Whether you are the one moving in with a family member, or someone in your extended family is moving in with you, rarely, if ever, does anything good come out of this.”
That’s because when it’s family, people often don’t communicate their expectations of living under the same roof, or what each person’s responsibility will be in the extended household. “The result of not communicating prior to the move-in leaves everyone vulnerable to miscommunication and misperceptions, and one or more people feeling used or disrespected,” says Dr. Brann.
Of course, in dire circumstances, living with extended family may be the only viable choice. Dr. Brann has some suggestions for healthy co-habitation.
1. Sit down together and talk things through before everyone agrees to it
Understand why this is happening and the expectation of each person.
2. Establish a timeframe so it is not open-ended
Everyone should know going in when this arrangement begins and when it will end.
3. Determine who will be doing what and when
Who cooks or cleans what and when? Who grocery shops and who pays for it? All household chores and responsibilities need to be determined in advance so there is no misunderstanding.
4. Determine a way to work out grievances or problems that arise along the way between individuals
You do not want these feelings to get buried and come out in inappropriate ways. Everyone needs to feel that they can talk to one another when a problem arises, so they don’t turn into issues that destroy the family fold.
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