Dear Patti,

My husband Dan and I have three grown children. We’ve always felt our oldest son, James, had the roughest childhood of our kids because we were so young and made a lot of mistakes when raising him. Specifically, Dan was way too strict and I was a baby having a baby.

Recently James was promoted and will be moving out-of-state. He and his wife, Sarah, want to be settled in their new home by this coming September before school starts. They sold their house for a fantastic price and we invited them to live with us to not only help them save money but allow us to be close as a family before they have to leave. James and Sarah are wonderful parents, and Dan and I adore our grandchildren.

We have a large house and thought it was a good idea. Unfortunately, they’ve only been here a month and it’s already starting to unravel. Resentments on both sides are escalating. Sarah thinks I interfere with her parenting because I make decisions without consulting her such as asking my grandchildren if they’d like to go to church with me or eat pancakes (which I’ve since learned they’re not allowed to eat). We recently found out James resents his father coaching his sons in athletics because he has a completely different approach than his father. Dan’s main complaint is that nobody disciplines their large, unruly puppy who terrorizes our old dog. I’m okay and am glad everyone’s here, but the children are a bit undisciplined and tire me out. Sarah also takes over my house too much, especially my kitchen. She moved my dining table, packed up some of my dishes and trimmed my garden, all without asking.

As much as I love having all of them around, these minor issues are bothersome and I don’t want any of us to accidentally damage our relationship before they leave.

    

  — Lisa

Dear Lisa,

It sounds like you and your husband raised a high-functioning man with a lovely family and you both should be proud. It’s very difficult, however, for two distinct families to comfortably merge when boundary and communication issues arise. Is there a way to give them a certain part of the house to live in and temporarily be theirs, a place where they can be alone as a family, where you and your husband can knock before entering and their family knocks before entering your area? They may need their privacy, and you and Dan may need more privacy, too.

Other than their living quarters, they shouldn’t make changes in your house without asking, nor should they do anything that they wouldn’t do if they were staying with friends for a weekend. Would your daughter-in-law visit another couple and move furniture or cut their flowers without permission?

An entire summer may feel like a long time to live in someone else’s home, and some of Sarah’s actions may be an attempt to make the house feel as much “theirs” as possible.

Your son’s family’s whole life is being turned upside down and will continue to be as they deal with a life-changing move to a different state. It’s very important to respect their personal family rules and support them as much as possible without hurting you or your husband.

For example, maybe they need two or three times where they eat alone as a family and the rest of the time you all dine together. It may also be beneficial for all four adults to have weekly or bi-weekly meetings on how to keep the integrity of each separate family and still try to meet the needs of all. Maybe James needs alone time in the backyard to play ball with his sons, or you and Dan need more quiet time.

There will be all kinds of issues needing to be discussed. This would be the perfect time for your husband to express his concern for your dog and for guidelines to be set. I hope the four of you can come to these meetings, realizing these issues are very normal. It sounds like you have a very loving family. Finding a structure you agree upon and all feel comfortable with will allow that closeness to endure. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.