My Extended Family

Say Goodbye to the Nuclear Family

Nearly every time I tell someone that I live with my in-laws, I get this look. The person’s eyes squint and they get this cringe on their face like they just got kicked in the stomach or ate really bad Chinese food. You know that cringe of disgust, and the sigh “I’m sorry dude.” I used to shake my head and just nod in agreement. Lately though I’ve found that I’m starting to become a little offended by the cringe.

Sure, living with my in-laws has been a rather large adjustment for me. Yet so was moving to college and living with roommates, moving in with Kirsten and doing laundry that contained ladies underwear, adopting the boys and worrying about their every need, and of course learning to work on 4 hours of sleep nightly with a new baby. This is exactly what we do. We adjust. It is the give and take in the learning time period that is the hardest.

I’ve recently talked to several other friends who are in similar situations with extended families. I’m finding more and more people who are sharing this same situation. Parents coming to live with their children cause they can not support themselves on fixed incomes. Or Children coming to live with their parents while they are in a down time in their life.

Our own situation is a little different. We came to live together for the boys, during the adoption process.

We all share the stories of the “learning period.” Some families struggle with space and boundaries,  other with mutual respect, and still some with pride and who plays what role in the household.

I think a lot of this is the lack of reference. The extended family was replaced in the 40’s and 50’s by the “Nuclear Family” unit. The extended family unit was seen as what happened when a nuclear family unit could not make it. The extended family was for failures. We have continued to encourage these roles in many sitcoms, there is nothing funnier then dysfunctional families.  I laugh at “Everyone Loves Raymond,” and “The King of Queens”; their struggles are something we all deal with or have dealt with to some extent while interacting with our own families.

I’m left thinking about my own situation with my extended family. Yes, there have been times where I felt overwhelmed with the situation. There are times where I felt I had to go hide in my room to get away from everyone. But in reality, it was all about adjustment and finding that groove.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me adjust to this new style of living:

1. Roles: Everyone has a role, and some roles are shared. My father-in-law is a grandfather, but that doesn’t mean he stops being a father.  I’m a father, but I’m still like a son to him. This role is something I think we are both learning. Kirsten is a mother, but will never stop being Norm and Shirley’s little girl. The boys are great sons, but all they have to do is run next door to become spoiled grandkids cookies and all.

2. Space: Each person in the family needs space. Defining the boundaries between common living space and personal space is important.

3. Respect: You don’t always have to agree, and trust me you never will 100% of the time. That being said you need to learn respect for each other. My in-laws have years of experience and are willing to share it, even if at times I don’t want to hear it. Turns out they are right a lot of the time. They in turn will learn to respect your opinions on things and let you make you own mistakes from time to time.

4. Help: This has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. My pride as a father is strong, but mentally I’m exhausted. Between football practice, taking care of a baby and work 40 hours a week I’m running on fumes. Luckily Papa and Nana always are willing to watch the kids or the baby. They love spending time with their grand kids.

4.5 Help: It’s not just about accepting help, but knowing that other could use some help, but won’t always ask.

5. Understanding and Compassion: Often we hold our parents up too high sometimes and forget they too have faults, moments of insecurity, fear, anger and need. We need to be understanding and forgiving of each other.

So the realty is that over time I think the benefits are far greater then the troubles. It just takes time like anything to get used to the new way of doing something. Do you have similar situation?


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nean
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:23:11

    Reminds me a bit of my post from a couple months ago, written as we prepared to embark on a similar journey and living situation: Sharing a home is not without it’s complications, but then, nothing worth having in life ever is.

    Thanks for your openness and honesty, Jason.


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  3. jasondeeds
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:03:46

    Nean I’m agree. There have been so many days that having my in-laws at home as been a life saver, but yes there are complications.


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