Training the Guests in Our Very Own Homes

A friend said to a group of us last week, “I am not complaining about my children that still live at home, I am struggling with my adult children who have come back to live with me because of Covid 19.”

I asked her if they help with meals and she said, “They help…”, her voice trailing off unconvincingly. Then she said more strongly, “All I do is shovel groceries from Walmart to my kitchen and cook.” And she has had it.

On Saturday February 27th, 2010 two letters were printed in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper, in a feature column called “Annie’s Mailbox”. These highlight how challenging parenting has become. We are all in this together.  Common themes are feelings of helplessness and anger. What would you do in these situations?

“Dear Annie: My wife and I have been happy together for 25 years.  When her adult son lost his job, we let him move in with us so he could get back on his feet. Three years later, he is no better off than the day he arrived. “Joe” will find a good job, work for a while and then quit. Sometimes he won’t get out of bed until the afternoon. He contributes absolutely nothing toward the bills.’

“I am angry that we are living paycheck to paycheck because of the extra money we spend to feed and house Joe. He is wasting his life. I’ve suggested he move in with his father, who lives in another state. My wife says, “If it bothers you, say something to him.”‘

“Annie, I resent that she is putting this problem in my hands instead of dealing with it herself. I know it bothers her, too. I want my home back without the extra baggage. What do I do? — Lost in My Own Home”

Letter #2:

“Dear Annie: I have repeatedly told my daughter to remove her things from my home because we no longer have room for them, but it does no good. We plan on moving soon and cannot take along 10 boxes of our daughter’s books and clothes.’

“She lives out of the country and visits two or three times a year. Each time she visits, she buys more than she can possibly take back and leaves the rest here. It is prohibitively expensive to ship boxes of books to her. What do we do? — Out-of-Space Mom’

In the above letters parents have lost their voice. If you reread them they feel stuck and powerless. How do we keep our sanity when our children/other people come and stay for extended periods of time, in our homes?

Brene’ Brown said:

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

My family of origin didn’t work out problems very well. It was hard for me to learn to ask for what I needed and not just stuff  my resentment in tighter and tighter until I blew up in a colossal way.  I have had to learn to painfully bring up stuff to work through. Such an excruciating weakness! It has gotten easier the more I do it, especially finally knowing I am only poisoning myself for not speaking up.

 I  have also had  my mother-in-law’s strong example to lean on, and the skillful way  she navigated hosting house guests.  We would all show up to stay for a holiday and she would have us clean regularly and help with meals. Initially I was bugged by her insistence that we help–“This is my vacation!”–but she trained us well, staying cheerful and loving with high expectations. She was also frank. I remember  family meetings where she said, “I can’t have everyone here and have it be chaotic and messy.” I learned how to be a good guest. She had trained her children well and then she had to train us, her in-laws. It was the ultimate win-win. She loved us to come and we loved coming. 

Through the quarantine when 4 of our adult  children came to stay,

  • everyone had meal duty with a bonafied chart–we ate breakfast and dinner together

  • “deal-of-the-day” where we would work together for 30 minutes on inside or outside in the yard

  • “5-minute-clean-up” after meals where everyone stayed and
tidied the kitchen

  • everyone pitched in on the groceries

Lest you think we are something from the Sound of Music,  we haven’t always been this clear. Other years we have invited some our adult children to leave for a time when they didn’t like our rules or didn’t want to help out. 

My husband clarified with me that it’s not about the  money when we asked for  help with groceries. It’s teaching our adult children how to be excellent guests wherever they stay. It helps them to be contributors and not just consumers.  We are entering our 12th week of houseguests and we still encourage and remind how to be helpful. We have realized we are living in an ongoing training facility, a laboratory of sorts to keep experimenting on what works and what doesn’t.  Parenting is never ending and it can be the gift that keeps on giving as my mother-in-law was able to show me.  

No one is going to ride in and save those parents in the letters above. No one is going to save us. It’s not too much to ask for help, and to keep asking, and clarifying and setting boundaries. “It’s never too early and it’s never too late” to help  our children and in-laws be a contributor–“This is how we do it in our home”–so we can feel peaceful, happy and rested, in our own homes, instead of feeling like wild eyed hostages.  It’s time to  tell that  resentment to take a hike!



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