My daughter asked her sister-in-law, “How can you live with your in-laws?” The response, “Well, it’s not easy, but we learned how to make it work.” That’s the same response I would have given my daughter – it cuts both ways.
Two generations living together, sharing kitchen and living spaces, is hard. Learning where to draw lines between being parents and children, adult equals, and landlords and tenants is hard. Learning about each other’s habits and quirks and personalities is hard. Heck, marriage is hard and it’s a lot like getting married. They say when you marry; you marry the whole family and not just your spouse. It’s true, and it must have been incredibly hard for our daughter-in-law to not only marry our son, but actually move in with his parents at the same time!
When my wife and I got married I couldn’t have done it, and I’m pretty sure my wife couldn’t have either, even though my Mom was the one who suggested I ask her out! Interestingly though, we actually did live with my wife’s parents for two months with an infant on board while finding a house after our move from Colorado back home to Michigan; and her parents also lived with her grandparents for more than a year, so we can say that there was at least some family experience with multi-generational living.
So yes, life with the in-laws is hard. What’s the one hard and fast rule? Talk, and don’t quit talking. Be honest, be engaged, and don’t get nasty. Talk about how you talk with each other. Share your hot buttons so we can be careful not to hit them. Tell us if something we said hurt you and why, so we communicate fairly and less painfully. Talk about and establish clear and acceptable expectations of each other. Talk about equitable divisions of labor. And parents especially, learn when not to be parents and instead be counselors and advisors; learn to wait to be asked and to not butt into your married children’s business. But also learn not to be afraid to speak up when their business is affecting the household.
When you get it right, multi-generational living is rewarding and emotionally uplifting. To share joyful announcements and successes with each other, to be surrogate Dad and Mom to your daughter-in-law when her own Dad or Mom can’t be there and give her a hug when things have gone badly or well, to be able to give your son a lift to work, to have a deep conversation between the four of you around the dinner table, to laugh to the point of tears at a great movie you enjoyed together, and just to celebrate life together is a remarkable experience that brings us even closer as a family.
Cherish the opportunity …