How to Prioritize Yourself as a Couple When You Have a Senior Parent or Adult Child Living with You
About five years ago, my husband approached me and asked me how I would feel about having his mother come live with us. We had only been married for about three years at that point, and she lived about 1200 miles away.
I barely knew her. But I love my husband, and I knew how much he loves his mom, so I didn’t even give it a second thought. We hired a contractor, turned our garage into an in-law suite, and she moved in three months later.
A couple of years after that, my parents asked us about living with us during the summers. Again, we hired the contractor, made a suite for them downstairs, and they are with us from June to September each year.
I would be lying if I said it was all easy and there were no adjustments needed. It has been a learning experience on all of our parts. But we have made it work, and we manage to co-exist very well – even in the summers when there are two sets of parents living in the house!
Keeping ourselves a priority may seem selfish, but at the end of the day we are no good to our senior parents or our extended families if we are frazzled or fighting with our spouse. Here is what has helped us to make it work.
Listen and Validate
We have two ears and one mouth. We need to spend more time listening and less time talking and trying to defend our stance on whatever the issue at hand.
When you have a parent or an adult child living with you, self-awareness is imperative. Knowing and being aware of your history – and often baggage – with that person can help you be less defensive if your spouse is complaining about something.
My husband has always been very protective of his mom and rightly so. His dad was abusive towards the whole family. He became very good at validating my frustrations and understanding that I had a right to them – it didn’t mean I didn’t love his mom or want her with us.
I also had to step back and take a look at my history and my control issues and realize that some of my frustrations came from within and not from without.
We have each learned a lot about how our individual backgrounds affect the way we handle situations. We’re more likely to think about that as we are discussing things.
My husband has a need to “fix” everything so when I complain about something that he couldn’t fix, he would feel helpless. He has learned that sometimes it’s okay to just say, “Yes, I would be annoyed by that too. You have every right to be!”
Set Boundaries with the Person
With adult children, setting boundaries might mean rules in terms of comings and goings, house curfews, guests, etc. If they are coming with grands, there may be rules about keeping toys to a certain area.
With senior parents, the boundaries may involve more conversations about getting involved in your discussions as a couple, for example. My mother-in-law sometimes would try to buy things for the house. She and I have very different tastes, so I had to occasionally set boundaries around that.
What the boundaries are will be different for every situation. Open communication around the boundaries is imperative. Be aware that boundaries work both ways, however! You might find that you have overstepped some of their boundaries, and you need to be ready to hear that and validate!
Try as Best You Can to Maintain Your Routine
Before my mother-in-law moved in, my husband and I would eat a late dinner in the living room and watch TV and chat about our day.
When she first arrived, I started cooking dinner every night, and we would sit down together to eat. She and my husband came from an environment where no one spoke at the table. I come from a loud family where everyone talks over each other. I began to dread those quiet dinnertimes.
My husband and I talked it through, and we now have a very fluid “dinner system.” It varies each day, but we no longer all sit together to eat.
You’d have thought I’d learn, but I had to go through the same thing when my parents came that first summer. For them, dinner was a major discussion each day, and I became very stressed by it. I had a talk with them, and it’s a now a non-event.
I got stressed because I was trying to accommodate what I thought everyone else wanted and messed up my own household routine in the process. And no one expected that of me, nor wanted me to do it. It was something I created in my own mind.
Get Away with Your Spouse
It’s cliché and all of the books and articles say to do it but DO get away with your spouse!!! Not just a date night, although those are important too. I’m talking about getting away. For at least a few consecutive nights – just the two of you.
My husband and I started doing that each spring a couple of years ago, and we would come back relaxed and connected. We were unable to do it this year because of the pandemic, and we’ve missed it terribly.
Everyone and every couple is affected in different ways by having a senior parent or other family member move in. The biggest step is acknowledging and realizing that there will be adjustments to make and keeping the lines of communication wide open.
Do you live with a senior family member or adult child or children? What have you found are the tough spots? What has worked for you? Please share your thoughts, and experiences and let’s have a conversation!