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‘While you are living under my roof, you will live by my rules’: How to survive sharing a home with your parents – again

Published Jun 30, 2022

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Recent research indicates that the number of adults staying with their parents is on the rise – mostly due to the economic climate – and this can have a negative emotional impact on both parties, says Lusanda Cebekhulu, a clinical psychologist from online wellness company Syked.

“Adult children who return home after a period of independence often feel that they are regressing and have failed. Those who had not yet left home may feel that they are not progressing as their plans to leave home are delayed.”

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Similarly, parents may have had their own plans for reconfiguring their living spaces after their children leave, and when this is delayed, it can come with feelings of anxiety and helplessness, she says.

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“They may wish to have their privacy, but also feel the guilt of knowing that they can’t just chase their adult child out.”

Often when adults move back home they get the “while you are living under my roof you will follow my rules” speech from their parents, and this can instantly cause friction. Mutual respect and trust, as well as clear expectations, however “are the most important part of most relationships”, says Farzana Botha, segment solutions manager at Sanlam Savings.

“In order to live well together and have financial confidence, you should talk about money, your expectations and responsibilities for each person, and understand each other’s money personalities so that you can better support each other. Speak about debt and find solutions together. Remove blame and shame and try to discuss things openly and honestly instead of pointing fingers.”

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John Manyike, head of financial education at Old Mutual, agrees that boundaries must be in place in any situation, but says these must be reasonable.

“For example, telling the adult that they cannot have friends coming over at 11pm and playing loud music is fair. But sometimes parents tell their adult children that they have to sleep at home every night.

“The boundaries have to be reasonable. If an adult is single they are going to be having relationships and maybe not come home, but this is all based on how the child was raised and the family’s values. Everything needs to be based on a foundation of consideration and fairness.

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“So it is only fair that if you, as an adult, are not coming home or will be home late, you should let your parents know. They also do worry about your safety. And if your parents cook for you it is also fair to let them know early if you will not be home to eat because food then gets wasted and this impacts finances.”

With everyone having their own internal conflict about the living arrangements, Cebekhulu says that if the dynamics are not acknowledged, “things can go south quite quickly”.

Multi-generational living therefore requires intentional planning, including:

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  • Setting boundaries: This becomes beneficial when these are collaborative, where all parties negotiate with compassion what their needs are from each other. “In this way, expectations become aligned, making it easier for each to respect the other’s boundaries.”
  • Setting up the space: Adult children can also negotiate on how to make their ‘old room’ more adult-like, Cebekhulu says, explaining that, being an adult in a room filled with teenage style designs can be dampen one’s mood daily and becomes a reminder of one’s challenges.
  • Negotiating chores: She says these need to be negotiated beforehand, despite the comfort of having the parent take over. “This helps to avoid the shock to one’s system of being instructed to do chores unexpectedly like a child.”
  • Maintain external connections: Both parents and the adult child can still continue with their recreational activities or spend time in their social networks, Cebekhulu says, as this brings a sense of normalcy.
  • Foster long-term relationships: “Families can use this period to mend relationships that may have been compromised over the years.”

For families grappling with rising living costs, it makes financial sense to house more than one generation under the same roof, says Carl Coetzee, chief executive of BetterBond.

“While having a granny flat or student digs on a property is not a new concept, we are seeing more families opening their homes to older and younger generations for various reasons.”

Citing 2020 data from StatsSA, he says just over 45% of households are double generational – with parents and children living together, while almost 15% have three generations in one home.

“The pandemic highlighted the importance of having family close by, and it’s likely that these numbers have increased. Instead of having to travel to grandparents or visit them in an old age home, many have seen the value in having their elderly parents with them on the same property.”

However, sharing the financial load of household expenses has always been one of the main draw-cards of multi-generational living, and is especially the case today amid rising fuel and electricity costs.

“Being able to share food, electricity, and utility costs will provide welcome relief to families. South Africa’s high unemployment rate has also seen more young people opting to stay at home with their parents until they are able to become financially independent.”

Aside from the financial benefits, Coetzee says multi-generational living provides support in other directions.

“Grandparents enjoy a renewed sense of purpose as they can help with childcare, while, for the younger generation, there is the comfort in knowing that there is a support structure in place at home; especially if both parents work. And of course, the grandchildren enjoy the gift of spending quality time with their grandparents.

“Many hands make light work, so having more than one family on a property helps with home maintenance, household chores, and other tasks. Also, with more than one family on the property, the home is unlikely to be unoccupied for extended periods of time, making it more secure.”

This is not to say that multi-generational living does not have its challenges, he says.

“Privacy and independence can be affected, so make sure that there are separate entrances to granny cottages or student flats, if possible.”

He also recommends that everyone is allowed space and time to pursue their own hobbies outside of the broader family unit.

“Larger properties that allow for a communal area for the family to gather, as well as space within the home to enjoy time alone, are better suited to multi-generational living.

“As with any living arrangement, there are pros and cons to consider. It’s advisable to have an agreement in writing that outlines everyone’s financial responsibilities and obligations.”

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