You Can Go Home Again: Moving in with Mom
Social psychologist Susan Newman is the author of seven books, including The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only and Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily, on which this piece is based. Newman also blogs for Psychology Today. Whether you’re under the same roof your mother/daughter–for a day or more permanently–Newman offers some good insights about how to coexist:
Just about the time a mother is getting older and believes that her parenting days are over, she’s back in the thick of it—usually delighted with her new role. When I was interviewing parents and adult children for Under One Roof Again, I was surprised by how willing mothers were to live with their daughters and to help care for their grandchildren.
Sometimes cohabitation is seamless; other times not so, or at the least, not how you imagine it will be. There’s a shift in power—or should be. Ideally, parenting becomes a cooperative effort, with adult children in the leading role. Sure there will be differences about neatness, cooking, grandparent indulgences, and schedules, but Ruth, one of the women I interviewed, says, “exploding is not worth it. I don’t want to lose my daughter or access to my grandchildren once they move out.”
Ruth’s daughter moved in with her husband and a two-year-old a few weeks before giving birth to twins. Two years later, Ruth talked about the conversion of her dining room to a playroom and the unending chaos created by three small children, then chuckled, “I come down in the morning and don’t know which child to pick up. I wouldn’t trade having my daughter and her family living with me for anything in the world.”
In other words, in spite of adjustments on everyone’s part, you can go home again–with children in tow–and build a friendship and camaraderie with your mother unlike what you had before. Even if the relationship wasn’t great to start, it can improve as Debra, a thirty-eight-year-old single mother of a toddler, discovered in the middle of her divorce. She vividly recalled the battles of her teenage years and viewed her mother as controlling and harsh. Debra was prepared to fend her turf for her son’s sake.
“If I had any other housing choice, I would have taken it. My mother and I had always clashed, and I assumed she would not hear or follow the rules I set for my son. When I expressed my concerns, she promised to do things my way,” says Debra. “I didn’t really believe her. Turns out, she listened to me maybe for the first time in my life. She followed my lead and that changed how I think about her. I will be eternally grateful.”
Hilary’s experience was less fraught with memories of youthful friction. Her mother was so excited that her “baby” (the youngest of five children) was having a baby that she relocated to live with her daughter and her husband toward the end of Hilary’s pregnancy. Hilary’s mother helped with their move into a new home and helped Hilary adjust to her newborn. Hilary says, “I don’t know what we would have done without her. My mother is the only one I trusted to take care of my baby.
“As my daughter has gotten older, I appreciate my mother even more. She’s supportive without interfering. I realize how much she did for me when I was growing up which I didn’t acknowledge before. I see her now as being the perfect mother and I wouldn’t have seen her that way if we didn’t live and spend so much time together over the last six years.”
Having three generations in one household is bonus time for passing on traditions and building lasting memories. “To me,” adds Hilary, “the most wonderful part of living with my mother is the relationship she has with my daughter. My grandmother died when I was four, so I didn’t have that powerful grandmother-granddaughter connection. They care for and look out for each other.”
Almost everyone agrees that the bond between mother and daughter is enhanced when grandchildren are born. When grandmothers live with their daughters and grandchildren, and when childcare becomes a team effort, the mother-daughter relationship becomes stronger, and respect for each other grows because as adults you see each other as people—so much more than parent and child. And, you have your grandchildren to thank for that.