Living with your adult children: How to keep the peace

Oct 25, 2019
Living under the same roof as an adult child can be fraught with problems, but there are ways to ease the stress and arguments. Source: Getty

It’s one thing to pick up after your five-year-old or cook dinner for your 15-year-old, but what happens when you’re stuck washing your 35-year-old son or daughter’s smalls? In a time of high property prices, stagnating wages and rising divorce rates, it’s not unusual for adult kids to stay at home these days, or perhaps come knocking when life gets tough.

While you were probably made to face life outside the family home as soon as you’d finished school, nowadays kids are making themselves comfortable under the same roof as mum and dad for far longer. In fact, a survey by comparison website Mozo claims that more than a third of Aussies over the age of 18 are still living in their family home.

This number has risen in recent years, with the number of multi-generational households in Australia increasing by almost 27 per cent between 1981 and 2006, according to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. And that’s just fine if it means an extra pair of hands around the house, or help paying the bills, but not if it sees you returning to parenting duties well after you’d hoped to have given them up for good.

So how do you keep the peace, with so many people living under the same roof? According to Elisabeth Shaw, Relationships Australia NSW CEO,  it’s all about treating each other with respect and setting rules from the get-go.

Treat the kids as peers and mutual adults

As the kids are growing up parents take on a caregiving role, tending to their every need including doing their chores and cooking them dinner. But in order for a multi-generational home to work, kids need to pull their weight and be treated as adults in the house.

A study by the University of Melbourne found adult children living at home can pose a burden on their parents, often not contributing to housework and draining their finances. Associate Professor Cassandra Szoeke says this can seriously affect the relationship between parent and child and conflict can arise.

“Delayed independence and multi-generational households result in changes in family structure and relationships and has a strong impact on the lives of both the parents and adult children,” she explains.

In order to avoid this Shaw suggests sitting down with the kids for a chat and setting out what is expected of them. She says you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any  poor behaviour and address it immediately, instead of becoming more resentful that things aren’t changing.

“It involves kids stepping up and parents stepping back,” Shaw explains.

Meanwhile, she says you must come to an agreement with the kids as to what is and isn’t allowed, such as partner sleepovers and no curfew. The payment of rent should also be addressed as part of a bigger conversation.

“Ultimately the frame to use is that of mutual respect and mutual cooperation, or rights balanced with responsibilities,” she says.

Bring up issues directly

If your child is starting to forget the chores and is relying more heavily on you to pick up the slack, then an immediate discussion is needed. Instead of just rolling your eyes and complaining afterwards, Shaw says you need to treat them as adults and bring in reasonable consequences if required, such as not letting them borrow the family car.

However, she also suggests encouraging them to move out and learn the lessons of life for themselves, instead of relying on you for support.

“In extreme cases, and as the years advance, it can be better for the young adult to move out and learn about cooperation from their peers,” Shaw says. “Parents can lose their voice, and the ‘growing up’ sometimes has to be completed with others such as flatmates.”

Starts at 60 community members can relate to Shaw’s advice, admitting their kids were better off moving out of the family home and taking on the world themselves.  Kym Walton says she did charge her daughters board once they completed university or found full-time work but soon after they flew the coop and learnt to manage their own money.

“When I first asked for board, you would think I was asking for their right arm every week,” she jokes. “But when they went out on their own soon after I received apologies as they realised it took a lot more money than the measly amount I was asking in board to survive. My daughters are now two very independent, strong, intelligent women and I think it was the best thing that they left when they did.”

Meanwhile, Brian Lee claims his kids decision to move out of home in their late teens was the best idea and says they have coped perfectly fine on their own ever since.

“We encouraged all of our three to go out into the big bad world at about 18,” he explains. “It worked well, and they still love us, so no regrets!”

Make explicit agreements

Instead of giving your kids chores to complete, which replicate childhood rather than the transition to an equal, respectful relationship, Shaw suggests formulating a rotating roster. For example, you could set up different nights to cook and days to clean certain rooms around the home.

“Everyone needs to experience the benefits and shared cost of participating,” Shaw explains. “After all, no one wants to do the chores, it’s about balancing the dislike by sharing it around.”

Starts at 60 community members have set up their own routines with their kids to help balance the chores and maintain positive relationships.

Joy Stennett says living with her daughter and grandson has been a breeze with no arguments between the pair and a fair division of chores. “I use the small light vacuum cleaner daily and she goes through with a big cleaner weekly,” she explains. “I clean the bathroom and she does the shower. I cook through the week as she works and she cooks at weekends.”

Stennett says her daughter even looks after the home when she’s away travelling around the country, adding: “We spend four months a year on the road and she looks after everything at home.”

For Maureen Walton the situation is similar with her adult daughter who lives and works in the family home. “She cleans up as much as I do as she is living in our family home – and I am not willing to clean up after her,” she explains. “We do occasionally argue and have our say, but then we go away from the situation, cool down and rethink the situation.”

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