Role Reversal: Sharing Spaces

by David Hibbard

Sharing space with your parents again after years of being on your own can be challenging, but also quite rewarding! When my job brought me back to live in the same house with my mother ten years ago, I would never have believed I’d still be here today. But life has a funny way of working out, and the arrangement has worked quite well for both of us, I’d like to think.

Whether your arrangement is temporary or permanent, and regardless of the circumstances, there are several keys to making it work. It’s my opinion that the mindset of both parent and child is crucial to cohabitating in harmony, but as the adult child, it is especially important to do these things:

1) Embrace the opportunity: The reasons adult children move back in with their parents are various and numerous. In some cases, like mine, it happens because of a positive development, such as a job opportunity in the area where your parents live. Other times, challenges faced by parents such as caring for themselves necessitate the return of grown children to the nest.

In any case, approach the situation in a positive light. Be grateful for the shared time you will have together again. Time is a finite commodity, and we never know how much of it we have left. So use whatever time you will have living together again – ten months, ten years or more – to reconnect and make some more memories together.

2) Don’t take complete charge: Even if you are living with your parent because their health is failing or they need help in other ways, don’t expect to dominate every aspect of their life.
Figure out what your parent’s capabilities are in certain areas – paying the bills, household chores, etc.—and let them be in charge of anything they are able.

If your parent is like my mother – still sharp mentally and physically – then stay out of the way and let them do their thing! Remember, they had this living-on-your-own thing down long before you did, so if what they’re doing still works, don’t mess it up.

3) DO offer to help where you can: If you identify areas where you can help, and your parents agree, then by all means pitch in. And your help can take many different forms, whether it’s financial, emotional support or physical help around the house. If your help with house cleaning, yardwork or other chores takes a burden off your parents, I believe it’s your obligation to do so, especially if you are moving back into their home with them. In whatever form it takes, I believe doing what you can at home to make your parents’ lives easier is part of the deal if you are living with them again as an adult child.

4) Agree to disagree: If life teaches us anything, it’s that human beings aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye on everything. With parents and children you could say those disagreements get taken to another level every now and then!

This time around, you’re an adult too. Handle disagreements with your mom or dad like an adult. Try to see their point of view, and don’t be disagreeable as you present yours. There’s always give-and-take in any relationship; at least with your parents, you should already have some idea of what makes them tick, how they think, and how you can best work together to solve any disagreements that arise.

5) Give in and live under (a few) childhood rules again: Wait, you’re saying, I’m 40- or 50-something and I’m supposed to have a curfew again? Well, not exactly. But I do believe you should extend common courtesy to your parents on certain things if you’re living together again. Give them an idea of where you’re going and when you’ll be home. Make your bed on occasion (I confess to being terrible at this one). As I’ve written before in this space, you never stop being their child, and they never stop being your parent. Don’t fight that reality, but respect it instead.

Throughout your time together, you and your parents may face unique challenges. But if you can embrace the chance to share this time together later in life, you’ll be able to overcome those. And you’ll be amazed at the laughs and good times that will be part of the deal, too!

Share your role reversal stories with contributing writer David Hibbard. Email him at: