Written by Erica Illsley, Contributing Writer
We never had experience with making a multi-family living situation work until several months ago the dreaded happened! My husband and five children and I moved in with my in-laws. Yep, the thing we claimed we would never do became a reality. My husband was out of work for an extended period of time and we believed God was moving us back to live in my husband’s hometown. We decided to step out on faith and move but it meant moving in with my in-laws until we are able to save enough money and find a rental home of our own.
How we have made a multi-family living situation work so far…
Communicating Clearly & Listening Carefully
Our best use of time and energy is to have a talk around the table and fully discuss the information that we want to communicate. My mother-in-law says, “If you feel a certain way about something then all you have to do is talk about it.” It’s alright to have negative feelings about someone stacking their stuff on your desk but instead of stuffing it inside, just have a conversation. Words in the right spirit and attitude can be said for problems to be fixed without a fight but they have to be heard from ears that are listening carefully with an understanding heart.
Respecting One Another
Sometimes there is an “us” and “them” mentality, especially if one party has moved into the other’s house. No matter which side you’re on, give respect to the other family members and the things they have communicated to you about. We are learning this also includes giving respect even when the other party is not around.
Using Our Manners
Manners will take you a long way in life, but are needed more when you’re living with others. Simple things like asking to borrow an item before just assuming that you can without the other person’s permission have lightened the load on the potential for resentment. Multi-family living is the classic, “treat others the way you want to be treated,” scenario.
We have an infant, we homeschool, my father-in-law is retired, and my husband and mother-in-law are working. Our life runs much better on a routine, we are not early risers but we have a regular schedule for our school days. We have created a cleaning and a cooking routine where each family rotates their responsibility for cleaning and meals. We know that children thrive on routine (with flexibility) so we have made a structured environment that can be dependable for them in our “blended” home.
We have been married eleven years and my in-laws have been married for thirty, it’s just kosher to say that each couple should be able to have their own privacy as well as space for personal use. We’re training our children that when the door is shut to a bedroom we don’t go in. There should be zones of privacy where someone can carry on a phone conversation or get dressed without worrying about little wandering children barging in and embarrassing them. This also includes respecting the information we do know about the private parts of our life and allowing them to be a secret to outsiders who do not need to know.
Making Time for Our Family Unit
Family nights out doing an activity with the kids or spending time with friends with kids are not something we feel guilty about. Our children need us at times just without the extra “eyes and ears” watching and listening to be able to relax and be themselves. Weekends have been great for Grandpa and Grandma to go out and for us to stay in or vice versa.
Enjoying Each Other
The gift of living with multiple generations together is that you are able to share time together. Whether it’s watching Grandpa’s favorite television show together, playing games, listening to music we all enjoy, we are cherishing the time together. This situation is temporary so these memories will not be available forever.
Taking Responsibility for Us and Ours
“Discipline yourself so that others don’t have to,” is a well-known quote helps me to stay responsible for my children and our messes. If we don’t want to be a burden then we have to clean-up after ourselves and do our part. If our kids are causing problems, we deal with our children instead of obligating my in-laws to. Stress is relieved for both families when we take responsibility instead of procrastinating or being lazy. This requires more time, awareness, and work from my husband and I but it has helped to create a more peaceful environment.
We trust that the Lord has allowed us this time in our lives not only to allow us to enjoy each other but to be more understanding toward other people and their feelings. It is a challenge to blend two families into a common living area but we believe our experience can be a good one if we just exercise good common courtesy and a right godly attitude.