Almost 60 million U.S. residents lived with multiple generations under one roof in 2021 according to Pew Research. This could look like having your aging parents live with you if you’re part of a sandwich generation, living under the same roof with siblings, or sharing a space with aunts and uncles. While living with extended family is a norm in some cultures, it doesn’t make it easy.
Sometimes, life events create situations where you end up having to live with family. For instance, because of the pandemic, a majority of young adults lived with their parents in 2020. For Candice Lyseight, CEO of Marie Worthy Weddings in Atlanta decided to move to Georgia and live with her parents after going through a divorce during COVID. At the same time, her grandmother was turning 89 and could no longer care for herself, so was also living under the same roof. While Lyseight enjoys the quality time she’s getting with her parents and grandmother, this full house comes with its challenges.
“It’s three different generations being under one roof,” she says. “Anything that affects the household and the caregiving of my grandmother requires a group discussion. To be honest, it’s 50/50 on whether everyone will agree on a solution, so patience is a must.”
Not everyone has a healthy family dynamic, and living with other people can be challenging, period. However, communication is one way to keep things harmonious, especially when you have multiple personalities in one space.
Arielle Jordan, a licensed clinical professional counselor and owner of Mindset Quality LLC in Frederick, Md. says developing healthy communication skills can make things easier.
“Use ‘I’ statements to express your needs and feelings, listen actively to others, and practice empathy. Through effective communication, you can address conflicts and misunderstandings,” she explains.
Lyseight says her family has been using family meetings to address conflicts since she was a child and it’s a tradition they still uphold.
“‘Family talks’ as we call them, tend to level everyone’s expectations. The agenda of the household has to be what is best for the household. The only way to accommodate that task is to understand what everyone needs to accomplish that,” she says.
While communicating is a solution, hurdles can arise if you don’t have a very healthy family dynamic. This is where boundaries and creating designated spaces for yourself can be helpful, says Jordan. She recommends communicating boundaries around personal space, quiet time, and/or privacy.
“Be assertive and consistent in upholding these boundaries while still maintaining respect and empathy for others,” she says.
You may also want to create a designated space if you don’t have one already. Jordan says make the space your own and use it for privacy and relaxation. In addition, personalize it with items that bring you comfort and peace, she says.
If all else fails and you find yourself continuously tense about the dynamic, consider speaking with a therapist. This way you have a neutral person you can vent to outside of the family and outside of the house. A therapist may also equip you with tools you need to manage any conflict at home.
While unfortunate circumstances can bring family members under the same roof, some choose to live with extended family because it aligns with values around community. This is the case for Chantel Runnels, a home educator, doula, and consultant in Riverside, Calif. who has been married for 15 years and has four children. She created what she calls an “oikos,” where extended family and members of their community live together to support one another “economically, socially and spiritually.” Over the past six years, Runnels has lived with her sister, brother-in-law and their two kids in addition to strangers they welcomed into their home at certain points.
“The experience of living together has been rich, but not without its challenges,” says Runnels. “With more children, changes in work, evolving parenting styles, and personal relationship transitions, there have certainly been growing pains.” Like Lyseight, Runnels and those she lives with also hold regular household meetings to help improve communication and bear their grievances.
“We hold each other accountable, set boundaries, share responsibilities, learn about challenges and celebrations. Most importantly, we often revisit our ‘why,’” she adds.
Living with extended family sometimes means sacrificing a lot of freedom. However, it can provide economic benefits, which are especially helpful with the rising cost of living.
“Our families have both been able to pursue entrepreneurial ventures due to the economic benefit of shared resources that would have certainly been more challenging if we were on our own,” Runnels says. “The level of support and accountability that living in community provides has enriched our family dynamics beyond what we could imagine. We have been stretched and strengthened as a result.”
Living with extended family may also give you the chance to get to know your loved ones on a more intimate level. This is something Lyseight is experiencing as she continues living with her parents and caring for her grandmother.
“The reward of spending this invaluable time with them and learning about each of them more intricately and individually has been the greatest gain during this journey in my life.”