I live with a large extended family and it works for me.
‘There are more important things in life than worry about who emptied the dishwasher’
We all know the age-old formula. You grow up, you get married, you move into your new family home – which usually includes your husband’s wider family. Your grandparents did it, your parents most likely did it. You’ve grown up with it around you. But have you done it yourself?
In some cases, yes. And whilst it may still have a bit of a bad rep, we spoke to an anonymous Saas Chat member who showed us the opposite. Up until recently she lived with six other family members, two of whom were elderly and dependant…not including her husband and their two young children. Unfortunately, her mother in law and grandmother passed away recently. The family she lives with includes her husband’s brother, his wife and their two grown up children.
This inspiring lady is happy and content – read on to hear how she does it.
What are the key things to make it work?
Patience.As I’ve grown older, I’ve learnt to become more patient. Having children has certainly made me more patient and living with extended family even more so. You learn you cannot and will not cause arguments every time something doesn’t go your way, or if someone has upset you. This takes patience. At first, I was scared of my own parents telling me off if I answered back to anyone, and now I’m just generally more patient. There’s bigger things in life to worry about than who emptied the dishwasher.
Compromise. Sometimes you want to do things differently but when elders make a final decision it’s in my belief system to listen and compromise. This is key. If I wanted to have my way all the time and get upset when I have to listen, it will never work. This doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. I’ve learnt over time to be more assertive if I disagree with something or if I feel I have been spoken to inappropriately. At least that way I have got my point across and can move on. It also depends on how important the subject matter is. If it’s not going to affect your life in a huge way then at the end of the day let people do what they want.
My spirituality. I would say I’m a spiritual person and often meditate. This has helped me to let things go and be grateful for what I have. Gratefulness is key in order to be happy and content. If I held anger in me, that would eventually make me bitter and unhappy, and therefore make people around me unhappy too. My spirituality helps me have a certain mindset. If you believe that these people are your ‘own’ family, you will always take measures to take care of them. Whether I make food for 3 people or 7 people it makes no difference. If you believe that it is ‘two’ families living under the same roof (as opposed to one), then it could never work.
Upbringing. Ultimately my upbringing is key to why living with extended family works for me. I was taught all of the above from my parents, whether it was consciously or sub-consciously.
Financial Security. Being financially secure helps a great deal as we can afford home help and don’t need to worry about cleaning rotas etc. A large house means there is plenty of room and space for everyone. However, this has only happened recently so before that my sister in law and I would split the household chores.
Having separate friends. I would recommend having your own set friends. We also have a family business so it can be too much working and living together but the same would go if it was just you and your husband. we all need to occasionally spend time with other people.
How did you feel getting married into a family who all wanted to live together? Living with extended family is all I knew growing up. My grandparents lived with us all our lives and so I grew up with their love, and saw my parents always look after them. Although I saw it testing my mums’ patience, she still saw it as her duty to look after elders happily. Seeing this and growing up like this had a huge influence on me. I grew up thinking the same would be expected of me, nothing different.
Have you ever considered moving out? No, I have never considered it. Even when my husband first suggested it when I was expecting my first child, it took me by surprise and I actually didn’t want to especially because my mother in law’s health was deteriorating at that time and I felt she needed us. It’s that belief that has been instilled in me since childhood that it is our ‘duty’ to look after our parents. Besides she was a lovely kind lady and not controlling in any way, so really I had no reason to leave. And because my husband grew up with the family being together, he was the youngest of two sons so he had a special bond with his niece and nephew. I also wanted my children to have the same bond with their uncle, aunty, and cousins.
What has it been like living all together? Was it what you expected? Yes and no but wouldn’t change it. Of course it’s been difficult at times and I have been challenged on many occasions but I realise over time that it is inevitable to have some disagreements as ultimately each individual has different personalities. It doesn’t mean anybody is good or bad, it just means everyone is different, and sometimes different personalities can clash. It’s how you deal with these clashes that determine whether there is going to be proper conflict or not. If you choose to hold grudges, then it could never work. There are plenty of advantages of course, someone is always there so there is never any need to worry about security or lack of company. If I need to nip out someone is always likely to be there to watch the kids. You will never be short of company. The relationships my children have with their cousins is very special. It is like real siblings as opposed to cousins. It’s lovely to see the special bond that they have by living together rather than seeing each other once in a while. On the flip side having complete time to yourself is a rarity, especially with young children unless everybody is out. Luckily we have a large enough house so I can always go to my room if I need some time to myself.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to our readers? If you are going to get married and are expected to live in an extended family then go for it! Treat your mother in law like your mother, your father in law like your father and your brother and sister in laws like your own brothers and sisters.
You are most likely going to have the same issues that you would if it was just you and your husband but there’s just more people to have them with! So take a stand when you really need to but let the majority of things go.
Most of all though, if it’s not working don’t force it. Life in an extended family is not for everyone. The taboo of moving out has been lifted so there’s no need to suffer and have your relationship affected, when living separately could actually enhance the relationship.