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Tips for Living with Your Adult Children or Aging Parents

Managing conflict when grown family members cohabitate.

Key points

  • Since early 2020, 52% of 18- to 29-year-olds are living with their parents; more than the peak during the Great Depression.
  • in 2016, 3.4M adults aged 65+ (11%) lived with adult children; these numbers increased during the pandemic.
  • The sandwich generation is especially impacted and stressed.

Due to the pandemic, millions of Americans have moved back in with family out of necessity, leading to relationship conflict. The two biggest groups who have moved are young adult children moving back with their parents and the elderly moving in with their adult children. The sandwich generation has been especially stressed as they may now be caring for both adult kids and aging parents1. Not only can the transition of living together be taxing on your relationship with one another; marriages, partnerships, and relationships with involved loved ones can suffer too.

Since early 2020, 52% of 18- to 29-year-olds are living with their parents. This is more than the peak during the Great Depression.2 According to a recent Pew Research survey, more than 30% of those people moved because of financial difficulty caused by unemployment. Another 14% moved because colleges closed their campuses.3

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, in 2016, 5.3 million adults aged 65+ (11%) lived in another person's household with 3.4 million living with their adult children.³ This number has increased during the pandemic as people have been navigating concerns about the health and safety of their aging parents who are at higher risk for negative outcomes from contracting COVID-19. Additionally, financial strain has caused adult children to become the caretakers of their aging parents.

Source: Credit: fizkes/Adobe

There are challenges on both sides when adjusting to living under one roof. Here are some of the common difficulties families are experiencing:

Conflicts About Power and Control: Who's in Charge?

When a young adult moves back home, they feel like they’ve lost their independence. Like it or not, parents often view their kids as children, no matter how old they are. This can lead to regressing back to old behaviors and relational patterns. For example, a parent can feel responsible for their adult child and feel inclined to manage and monitor their daily living, choices, and activities. When young adults are put in this position, they feel disrespected, causing relationship conflict.

Acknowledge and recognize that even though the young adult will always be your child, they are adults. This requires a big shift in the parent-child relationship. As you develop mutual respect for one another, you can let go and allow the adult child to be responsible for themselves without micromanaging or enabling them.

When a parent moves in with an adult child, it can feel like a role reversal. Aging parents may struggle with feelings of loss while adult children are in a state of overwhelm. Again, acknowledge all parties are grown adults deserving respect.

It is important to realize and respect that it is the primary homeowner who is in charge of the rules of the household. Proactive and honest conversations that are mutually respectful need to occur so that everyone is clear on expectations.

Boundary Challenges: What rules and limits need to be established?

Using assertive communication that is respectful, direct and clear, set boundary limits when it comes to:

  • Physical space: Which spaces of the home are private or shared?
  • Rules of the house: What are the rules regarding cleanliness in common spaces, noise limitations, curfew, policy on guests, or substance use?
  • Finances: Who is going to pay for what, and what do you determine to be a loan or a gift?
  • Division of Labor: Who is responsible for cleaning, grocery shopping, or doing chores like laundry?
  • Privacy: Can the adult child have their partner over? Can the parent just walk into the adult child’s room because it's their home? What are each person's needs?
  • Time: Is this a permanent or temporary living arrangement? If temporary, for how long, and what is the exit plan?

Communication Problems: How can we resolve our differences?

There’s a range of emotions that come with a new living arrangement including grief and loss. For everyone involved, there is some loss of independence, freedom, and privacy. Being financially dependent on another can lower feelings of self-worth. Likewise, being financially responsible for another can lead to resentment. Be prepared for communication challenges, a period of adjustment, and some potential conflict. To effectively communicate and resolve conflict:

  • Practice empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and imagine how they might feel. Verbalizing empathy allows people to feel heard, known, understood, and connected. It can diffuse conflict as once people feel heard, they may not become increasingly defensive or aggressive to get their message across.
  • Choose your words carefully. Consider how what you say will feel to the other person. Before speaking, ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?”
  • Address concerns. Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Voice concerns in a kind. diplomatic, appropriate, and timely fashion.
  • Have weekly or monthly check-ins. Use this time to clear the air and nip any challenges in the bud.
  • Access support from friends, family, community, and support groups.
  • Consider individual or family counseling or therapy.
  • Work with a financial advisor or debt consolidation counselor for financial advice.
  • Practice self-compassion. During this time, be gentle with yourself. Transitions can be stressful, and practicing self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-care are crucial now more than ever.
  • Practice forgiveness. Resentment is hardened anger that can build walls between ourselves and our loved ones. Practice forgiveness to emancipate yourself from the anger that can lead to both mental and physical health challenges.

Wishing you peace and serenity. Remember, "This too, shall pass."