Intergenerational living may not be a new phenomenon, but the modern-day benefits and complications make this living arrangement both financially viable and fraught with potential personality clashes.
The reasons for living with in-laws and parents, or when parents move in with their children, are most times financially motivated, but can also be due to sickness and frailty. How well this living arrangement works hinges on a good sense of maturity, an ability to compromise and setting and sticking to the ground rules. Everything else in between can be dealt with in a frank and respectful conversation.
“I’ve got no issues with my father-in-law, thankfully, or it would have been very awkward. I guess when I say no issues, I really mean nothing insurmountable. I hate his rugby memorabilia plastered all over the house, but it is his house afterall. At least I have our room and en-suite bathroom which I’ve turned into the boho-chic sanctuary I long the whole home to be.”
These are the words of Janica Roux*, newly married yoga instructor sharing a home with her husband and semi-retired father-in-law in Linden, Johannesburg. Janica and her architect husband, Braam* got married in September 2017, six months after Braam’s mother passed away.
“It just kind of happened naturally. My dad is still consulting so he’s out of town quite often,” says Braam. “After my mom’s passing, Janica and I were living here for two weeks a month anyway to watch the home.”
Eventually, Janica and Braam spoke to Johan* and it was agreed that they would give up their one-bedroom rental flat and move into Johan’s big family house. This would enable them to save more effectively for their own home and give Johan the peace of mind of knowing someone was home most nights while he was working away from home.
It almost didn’t work
Janica and Braam were dating for six years before getting engaged in 2016, so it is not like a group of strangers decided to suddenly live together in close quarters.
“I nearly moved out though” says Janica. “Braam was acting differently, almost as if he suddenly disregarded all the ground rules we had in our own apartment.
“I have a couple of classes a day and am still studying part-time, so definitely didn’t have time to clean up after two grown men. We urgently had to set up some clear rules from the get-go to avoid serious issues.”
What are the rules?
Johan, Braam and Janica each have their own set of rules and non-negotiables which they needed for this living arrangement to work, but, says Janica, there are five basic discussion points that need sorting out to live with anyone harmoniously – especially parents and in-laws!
#1 Who’s paying for what?
According to Johan this was the toughest part for him. He wanted to pay for everything. “One Friday night when I jumped up to pay for our pizzas again, Braam actually forced me to stop and after that we had a good little chat about the need for clearer guidelines,” he explains.
It’s important to make sure that all members of the household are contributing their fair share. While no one wants a daily situation like restaurant “bill time” in their home, there are definitely simple ways to sort this out. Working from income and then dividing household expenses according to an equal percentage contribution, thereby creating a house money pot, is a very equitable way of doing it. This is how the Rouxs do it. Each person could also pay their own way, although this probably works better for friends; or lastly simply give each person as many of the expenses as that person can handle.
#2 Who’s feeding whom, when?
“I work from home, often with flexible hours, so I couldn’t help but feel that my dad and Janica expected food ready when they got home and knew I was at home that day,” says Braam. “We’ve tried many ways of getting this right but still sometimes end up getting expensive takeouts more than we’d like to because no one prepared food.”
Braam says the most success they’ve had so far is alternating responsibility weekly, or one person is responsible for one daily meal for a month as that makes cleaning easier.
#3 Who’s cleaning what, where and when?
If it’s within budget it is always a good idea to hire someone to work a couple of days a week, especially in a bigger family home. But each person should also definitely take responsibility for their own messes.
#4 Each person needs a “me-space”
This is admittedly a difficult one to get right, even when there is no multi-generational living added to the mix. Janica’s advice? Talk about it and actually ask the people you are living with to respect your need for alone time in a space without interruptions.
#5 Clear guidelines on what is special and important to the other household members
Basically a “hands-off guide”.
“Braam knew not to finish my yoghurt and then not replace it, but Johan obviously didn’t,” says Janica. “That is until I got back from a class one day and couldn’t make my smoothie. Now we all know where the limits are.”
It seems that this is again one of those issues where the best solution is just to talk about it openly and to take responsibility. If you finish or break something of a fellow house member simply replace it.
The benefits of inter-generational living are vast but it can become awkward or even impossible if not approached with the right mind-set. What’s Janica’s final word of advice? Talk about it and be willing to compromise.
*Names have been changed
Words: Maxine Ridder