We have four adult children living with us. The key idea that we have established is that to a degree it as if we were all flatmates. I have reflected back on the short time I was a flatmate with a few of my friends – what makes a good flatmate? Unfortunately society is more comfortable with the idea of grown kids moving out of home and living with adults other than their family than they are with adult kids staying home. And though that may well happen in our house, at the moment we are all living together.
At some stage our kids have to start acting like adults and parents have to start treating their kids like adults. As our children grow morally mature (that is able to do the right thing from a desire within themselves to do the right thing) we can change how we relate to each other, which will affect how we live in the same house together. For sure, there is always the aspect that Peter and I are the parents and owner of the home, but to balance that out as the kids get older there is a degree of friendship which puts a slightly different slant on that. We don’t need to be the parents with the authority, but rather the parents with the support.
For parents of younger children these are the things that we teach our kids when they are young, so that when they are older they are a delight to live with – whether that is at home, with a friend, or their spouse when they get married.
Key Principles that make Living Together Possible
Each person has their own set of responsibilities – to look after themselves, and to share the load of looking after the household.
Each family, each household, will deal with this issue differently. We have a roster that covers household chores. Everyone knows who is doing what. Sometimes my kids swap things around with each other to suit their preferences, or their outside commitments, but the important thing is that everyone pulls their weight in looking after the home. We all live here, we all have responsibilities.
We also keep in mind that we don’t live by rules – we are a family living together. So there has to be some give and take. There are times when we cover for each other because someone is going through a hard time, there are other times we all pitch in together so we can enjoy life together. But the expectation is there – we all know our responsibilities, and we do our best to live accordingly.
Respect each other’s property:
Living in close quarters it is easy to become overfamiliar with the stuff that belongs to someone else. We taught this from toddler age up – if it doesn’t belong to you, ask before you use it or play with it. For teenagers, especially the girls, it was an issue of clothes – and not presuming you can wear each other’s clothes, shoes, or jewelry. Now with my kids older it is computers – just because it is in the house, it doesn’t make it yours for the taking.
There are items in our house that the owner has given ‘permission’ to be used by others – and for that we need to treat their property carefully, and be thankful for their generosity.
Property is stuff that belongs to someone else because they have bought it, or they have been given it. We need to respect that. It is too easy to over-focus on the issue of sharing – and demand that sharing happens. Real sharing happens when something belongs to someone else – it is then theirs to choose to give to someone else. Sharing always has to be balanced with respect.
Respect each other’s needs:
As my kids have grown older we have started to recognise a stronger sense of introvert/extrovert. Respecting the needs of each person is important if we are to live together well.
We are a community, living together, but we are also individuals. We have to learn to respect the individual and not assume we are all one big lump of a family.
The flip side of this is that we are family, we value each other and we value our relationship with each other. We have a responsibility to maintain relationship with each other as much as our responsibility to look after our self.
Respect each other’s efforts.
Because everyone has their part to play in making the family life happen there is an awareness of what effort others are making. We know what it takes to cook dinner for 6 adults, because we cook dinner for 6 adults. We know what it takes to keep the laundry caught up, because we’ve worked hard at it too.
This awareness increases the respect and appreciation for each other’s efforts. Gratefulness and Consideration are two key heart attitudes to keep relationships smooth.
Four habits that I see as important aspects of respecting each other’s efforts are:
- Saying thank you
- Letting people know if you are going to be there
- Apologising if plans change
- Leaving an area ready for the next peson
Keep short accounts.
When you are living together there are going to be hurts – it happens. The sad thing isn’t so much that it happens, but when it doesn’t get fixed, when it festers and turns really sour and bitter, and when it explodes.
We need to keep short accounts. We need to be in the habit of going to each other and talking about the things that have hurt, of asking for forgiveness and of giving and receiving forgiveness.
Often people do this well when the kids are little but not so well when they grow up. If siblings can’t sort out niggles, arguments and hurts with their sibling, they won’t be able to do it with their spouse either. This is an important life skill.
We need to guard against taking offense. In our house I try and put a lid on pretending to take offense – so quickly that turns to reality because often there is a speck of truth to your pretence. You either are or you are not offended. If you are – deal with it; if you are not – don’t pretend to be.
Be a blessing.
This is a heart attitude to be helpful, kind and a benefit to all those that you meet. When we have this attitude we do more than our responsibilities, we go the extra mile, and we look out for the well-being of other people.
This puts a stop to legalism in our relationships where we only do what is on the roster chart, where we hold people accountable to what they said they would do regardless of circumstances, where we stand up for our rights.
When our kids were little we would occasionally play the ‘secret angel’ game where we would need to do something for someone without anyone knowing. My hope is that this becomes a habit – that we always look for ways to do things for those we live with.
The Bible is our Guide
Three Bible verses that give us a perspective for relationships in the home:
Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Phil 2:3-4 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
And we are all familiar with the “Golden Rule”
Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Prepare Your Family to Live Together Well
If you have older kids in your home, then this weekend think about
- How you are relating to them – is it respecting their maturity?
- What are you expecting of them around the house – do they carry their load?
- What do you expect of siblings? Are they starting to take responsibility for their relationships?
- Are they ready to move out and flat with mates? This could be an objective guide to the training you still need to work on. Whether they ever move out or not, family are people too and we need to live together well.
If you have younger kids in your home, then this weekend think about
- Are you teaching them, and giving them opportunity to practice taking responsibility for their stuff, and for the home you live in?
- Are you showing your kids how to mend relationships, and how to ask for forgiveness and forgive others?
And all of us can consider how we can be a blessing to those we live with – even Mums and Dads need to consider this – how can you bless your kids this weekend?
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