How to Train Your Parents for Multi-Generational Living

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!

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16 thoughts on “How to Train Your Parents for Multi-Generational Living

    1. Thanks, Rosie! They do require some training and so do we. 😅

      I hope you guys are doing well up in New England!

  1. As you know we live next door to each other in separate houses, but it is proving very useful right now. We share the effort of getting through to delivery services for food, and split the large orders when they arrive. I also am relieved to see my family doing well by just looking out my window.

    1. Yes, I remember you telling me about how similar your arrangement was to ours. ☺️

      It’s very useful indeed. We still handle most things separately but we have overlaps. My parents go to certain stores I don’t go to and I’m the only one who gets up early enough to catch Kroger before the shelves empty so I give them my list of items from their stores and they tell me what they want from Kroger.

      I’m sure most of all, COVID-19 or no, you enjoy watching your kids and grandkids being so close to you! I will never understand why more Americans don’t consider multigenerational living. I’m converting as many as I can along the way. 😅

    1. Haha, same. I am enjoying my quarantine alone. Mom told me the other day that I love my own company too much. 😅 But it’s also nice to know my family isn’t far away.

  2. I love this post, I know so many of my friends who had to go back home because of this global crisis and are struggling to learn how to live with their parents again. Thanks for sharing 💕

    1. Thank you! I don’t know any personally, but I’ve heard stories. Feel free to share this with them. Hopefully it helps!

  3. This is excellent and timely advice. I am a retired mom sharing a living space with my son and his family. I have a basement suite and they have the main part of the house. At first, we had to learn how to live separately together, which is different from living separately and also different from living together.

    At first, I overstepped the line separating our roles. I wanted to clean house when they were at work, but that was inappropriate because it invaded their privacy. Now I sometimes do the dishes, but that’s all.

    We visit each other regularly and sometimes offer to buy things at the store for each other, but we always knock before entering each other’s homes. It’s working out quite well, all things considered.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story with me! I’m also glad we can get the other side of the experience, ie from the perspective of the parent.

      It is VERY hard learning boundaries with the adult version of someone you once made decisions for! I certainly had to put some effort into training mom. Her case is especially difficult because we lived apart in separate countries for a long time and having me finally here with her was a luxury she wanted to soak up every moment of. I lived away from my mom from around age 10 to age 25. She was in NYC and then moved to ATL.

      She is very good now at respecting boundaries. Dad needed zero training. I will ask him to fix something, leave the door open, and he’ll still call me to ask if he can come do it now. 😅

      I’m glad you guys have adjusted and that things are going well. If I can ever offer any insight on my end that might prove useful, feel free to send me an email anytime. ☺️

      1. Thank you for the kind offer. I will take you up on it if I feel the need for your perspective.

        I would add that I have not felt the need for “retraining” with my son, but I have had to learn a new role relationship with my daughter-in-law and stepgrandson.

      2. You’re welcome. ☺️

        Interesting! That does make sense. But then I’m sure Mom might say she wasn’t retrained either. I was subtle with my training. 😅

    1. You’re so welcome! My experience with American men is that they need an extra push when it comes to pulling their own weight compared to the women. Maybe the blog post might help. 😅

  4. Great ideas! I lived with my parents until age 24 and then had a brief (impossible) 6-month stay with my dad when he was suffering from dementia. But that’s a different type of scenario. I don’t know what the future holds as far as my adult children and me. Right now, we’re all separated. Stay well! ❤️

    1. Thanks for commenting, Paula! I went off on my own at 16, bounced around at 25 during my travel gap year and then we got this house at 26. I’m 30 now and ready to go, but mom is trying everything possible to keep me here, including threatening to kidnap the cat!! 😂

      I’m sorry to hear about your dad, but don’t be surprised if your adult children come knocking. It’s about to become way too expensive for people to live alone in America.

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