In the spring of 2016, my mom and I bought a house in the suburbs of Metro Atlanta. During our search, we kept an eye out for a duplex. Unable to find one at a reasonable price, we settled on a home with an unfinished mother-in-law suite.
We maintain separate households and both homes are self-contained. We share expenses related to utilities, internet, yard work, and so on. My parents take the front yard and my front yard is the back. We have separate entrances and so much privacy that we sometimes go days without seeing each other.
Mom’s aim with buying the house was to provide a cushioned start for me as I started a new life in America. I am forever grateful for that but was so excited to finally head off to the desert and do my adulting alone — as I had done for 10 years before moving here.
Along came COVID-19 and that plan to drive across the country is unlikely to take place this year. Mom is, of course, ecstatic. She had been begging me to consider staying here for another two years. Not even the potential of earning Airbnb income from my unoccupied and fully furnished “condo” could thwart her.
Right now, there are a lot of college students who got sent back home to live with their parents after getting used to adult life on their own. Many working adults also made the decision to give up their apartments and move back in with their mom, dad or grandparents, so they can weather the recession together.
Regardless of what category you fit into, you can train your parents for the journey ahead. Note that this advice might not work for people living in broken families. My family and I actually get along wonderfully.
Step One: Create Separate Spaces
When we bought this home, the mother-in-law suite had no kitchen and ONE electrical outlet. It cost me about $10,000 to renovate and furnish this space, including adding a kitchen and tearing up the walls to re-wire sockets wherever I wanted them. If you’re handy, you can probably get it done for less.
If there is no separate space you can convert, consider adding some final touches to your own space. You might get a tiny fridge with a 700-watt microwave, for instance. But if you do, I trust you’ll be contributing to the utilities. If even this is not an option, just make your living space as separate and comfortable as possible so you can give each other room to breathe.
Step Two: Contribute to the Household
No matter how much your parents love you, they will not see you as an adult if living with you adds all the responsibilities of living with a child or teenager. No matter what your parents say to make you feel better, they will always appreciate the fact that you offered to help — even if they give you the money back.
If you aren’t working and don’t have a lot of savings, there are other things you can do around the house. Here are a few options:
- Take out the trash as soon as it’s full.
- Bring the mail inside every day.
- Walk the dogs and clean the litterbox.
- Do the dishes after your parents make dinner.
- Wash and vacuum the cars.
- Appoint yourself as the person who does the grocery runs.
- Mow the lawn.
Step Three: Take Care of Yourself
Many people believe that if they do their own laundry, make their own meals and wash their own dishes, they are contributing to the household. Taking care of yourself does not contribute anything; it only reduces the burdens you bring to the table. With that said, if Mom is still doing your laundry and cleaning your room, that $200 you gave toward bills last week won’t exactly help you with obtaining adult status in your home.
Many people don’t seem to realize that in order to get your parents to treat you as adults, you first need to be one. Turning 18, 21 or 40 means nothing until you get that down pat. And, you’ll need that for the following suggestions.
Step Four: Lock Your Door
You could build a whole house in the backyard and your mother will come knocking at that door and let herself in. If you don’t have a mom like this, I don’t know whether to feel sorry for you or envy you. The only way to ensure you get actual privacy in your home is to lock the door. To get the adult right to lock your door without a fuss, you need to master steps one through to three.
In my home, the door from the mother-in-law suite connects to the kitchen of the main house. When I renovated my “condo,” I put a lock on my door. Mom was very upset, but I would lock that door just because I could until she understood that if the door was closed — not locked — I should be left alone. Once she understood that, I started to open the door again. It’s now open about 25% of the time and I rarely lock it.
Step Five: Break a House Rule
One of the first things Mom tried to do when I came to America was to put me on curfew. I was 25 years old, had my own key and she wanted me home by midnight. I would stay out until 2AM every time just to prove a point. I was an adult who had lived alone for 10 years in Jamaica; my moves would not be limited by a worried mother. I text and let her know I was okay and when I planned to get home.
Since we’re technically now all on curfew, this is not the rule you want to break, but there has to be another one worth considering. Choose something that does not actually inconvenience your parents. For instance, if there is a house rule for no shoes in the house, you better only be wearing shoes in the bedroom that you sweep, vacuum and/or mop yourself. If you think hard enough, you’ll find something.
Step Six: Set Aside Bonding Time
I hear a lot of parents complaining about being home with their kids and have come to the realization that most people do not like their children. Babies stop being cute after about age three or four and remain annoying to their poor parents until around 12. At that point, they start to frustrate instead of annoy. When you’re reaching adulthood or once you’re already there, however, that’s when your parents like you again.
Your parents are also getting older, so spending time with them is important or you’ll regret it. Mom and I have our movie nights on Friday. I don’t even watch movies, but she loves horror films, so I pencil out time for it every week. If you set aside specific times for your parents, they’ll feel less inclined to come knocking on your door every five minutes to find out if you’re alright in there.
Estimates say COVID-19 will last for some time and that the economic damage it caused will take America three years to recover. So, if multi-generational living looks like it might become a long-term plan for you, I’ll help you feel better. Here’s my article on all the reasons I actually enjoy multi-generational living. As a reminder, my family and I actually get along. This might not work for people living in dysfunctional or abusive households.
Do you also have tips on how you trained your parents for multi-generational living? Share them with me in the comments below! If you are a parent and want to share tips on how we can brainwash you more easily, we are happy to hear those tips as well!