Living with your parents or in-laws (and challenging the traditional American stigma)

2:15 PM James 0 Comments

I’ve been living with my wife’s parents for about six months now. Since the birth of our daughter, they’ve graciously allowed us to rent two extra bedrooms for $1,000/month.

It’s been a major challenge to my concept of being an adult. I thought being an adult meant being independent. I didn’t know what to think of the all-too-common story of the Millennial college grad who moves back in with her parents, the “boomerang child”.

It’s also a potential strain on our relationship. Being that close to one set of parents presents its own set of problems:
  1. Parents can get on kids’ nerves.
  2. Adult children can get on parents’ nerves.
  3. You don’t want to think about your in-laws seeing or hearing some of the normal married things you do with their precious son/daughter.
  4. There can be tension about your multiple roles. Should you be treated as a guest? As a tenant? As something entirely different?

However, there are many benefits as well:
  1. Parents can be an enormous help with the grandchild.
  2. It makes grandparents feel included, which helps their sense of well-being.
  3. You can also be a big help to the parents with various things (household repairs, shopping, etc)
  4. If your parents have a big house that’s now an empty nest, your financial assistance will help them pay their mortgage. It’s also a more efficient use of housing than to have two big houses (one for you and one for the parents).
  5. Parents don’t always like to take monetary gifts from children, so this can be a creative way to help your parents out. You’re also keeping more money in the family, instead of paying some stranger.
  6. Baby can get to know more family members, which is great for baby’s social, relational, and language development.
  7. You can save money on rent and increase your savings for upcoming expenses.
  8. If you’re at all concerned about your parents or how they live, it’s a way you can keep a closer eye on them and make sure they’re OK.

From a cultural perspective, living with one's parents isn't as taboo as you might think. In the US, it's become more acceptable since the Great Recession. In many European countries, more young adults live with parents, even up to age 40. And in Asia, multi-generational homes are very common.

From the family unit’s economic perspective, we’re saving my in-laws $1,500/month, and we’re saving ourselves about $700/month in rent and $1,200 in childcare costs, so the total economic benefit is $3,400/month. That’s over $40k/year tax-free in after-tax money, or it’s like making $56k/year more before taxes if your marginal tax rate is 28%.  

From the family’s relationship perspective, I think we’re building stronger family bonds, and we’re allowing everyone to spend a lot more time with baby, which is a huge win.

On the other hand, if you’re living with parents, you’re kind of on the same train with them as far as lifestyle, by default. You eat what they eat, if you share a fridge with them. You may not always do what they do, but your activities are compatible. And you may not spend what they spend, but you’re influenced by it to a higher degree. Herein lies the risk of diluting the benefit of multi-generational cohabitation.

How to beat this:

  1. Be really clear on your priorities. Get clear with your spouse on this if you’re married. One of you is related to these people, and may have a stronger emotional attachment to their way of living. On the other hand, they may be more effective or more knowledgeable at broaching uncomfortable subjects with them.
    1. Make specific plans as a couple.
    2. Talk about your specific goals, and any actions you need to take separate from your family’s normal activities.
  2. Make sure you spend time with yourselves, and not only time with family. If you don’t make an effort, you start to feel like siblings instead of romantic partners.
  3. Don’t feel like you need to always do what your family is doing. Chances are, your parents don’t want to always spend time with you either.
  4. You can score points with the parents and buy some leeway by doing thoughtful things for them occasionally. Wash the dishes, do some housework, take them to dinner, and be a good neighbor / tenant / child / in-law.
  5. Know how long you want to do this. Talk with your spouse about how long they’re OK with this arrangement. Decide when to reevaluate. Discuss how it’s going regularly. Have a plan to get out, and don’t be afraid to pull the trigger and reclaim your independence!