Making the most of living with extended family

More and more people are pooling their resources together and living with extended family members. Some reasons include financial assistance, childcare, and providing care for elderly or sickly family members.  Whatever the reason, living with one’s family can be a great experience if approached with the right mindset. However, if expectations, financial agreements, and general house rules are not laid out beforehand, the lack of communication can lead to disagreements, or in a worst case scenario, severed ties. Therefore, open and honest communication between all parties is essential to keep the home front a happy and welcome place.

I spent a period of my life living in a home with 4 generations! I remember when my daughter was born and loving to watch my 88-year-old grandmother care for her. It was the first time in a while in which she felt needed, along with the fact that she loved snuggling in that rocking chair to feed that beautiful baby! Weekend family dinners, live in babysitters, and the sharing of household responsibilities were all great perks of such a living arrangement. However, as time went on, many problems also arose. Financial responsibilities became unbalanced, important decisions were made without consulting all parties, and  tensions built due to lack of good communication. Out of that experience, here are some helpful suggestions to follow when making the decision to live with extended family members:

Set boundaries

Set clear boundaries for space, privacy, child rearing, etc. I was fortunate that my home was set up with related living quarters (sometimes referred to as “in-law suites”), which allowed for privacy and some needed separation. That separation often became a lifesaver. Whatever living arrangements are made it will be important to discuss some basic ground rules early. 

Respect privacy

Be respectful of each other’s need for privacy. Knock before entering a room. Do not assume it is okay to go through each other's personal things. Discuss having company over, allowing someone else to stay in the home, and anything else that will impact other members of the household. 

Set expectations

Have clear expectations for financial and household chore and maintenance tasks. Have a specific agreement as to who will be paying which bills and how much. Is it a 50/50 split on all bills, or will you designate specific expenses to a specific person? Also, decide on how to share household responsibilities.  Plan who is going to do which inside and outside duties and when, so that all parties are actively working together. Keep a chart if you have to. This area can lead to much conflict if clear expectations are not agreed upon.

Be united

Lastly, if children are involved, make sure everyone is on the same page with parenting. Having multiple generations will usually mean differing parenting styles. If it is your child, discuss with your family how you would like such things as meals, bedtimes, playtime activities, and discipline approached, so that all members are working together, rather than against each other. Even under a grandparent's roof, the parent should take the lead but not take advantage. 

Living with others is always a challenge, and because it’s family, do not expect for it to be easier. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 4 to  "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." So have open communication, set expectations of one another, and show mutual respect. With those components you can have a win/win living situation!

About the author — Donna Southard, MA, LCPC

Donna Southard is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Indiana and works at New Leaf Resources.  Her areas of specialization include family and marital relational issues, adolescent treatment issues, stress and adjustment issues, child separation and adoption, self-esteem, coping with chronic illness, families dealing with addiction, among others. New Leaf Resources is a nonprofit counseling center with offices in Lansing, IL, Crown Point and Wheatfield, IN.  For more information, call (708) 895-7310 or visit

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