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When Family Moves In

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistAugust 20, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

When a family member needs a place to stay, you may feel inclined (or obligated) to say, “Mi casa es su casa” – or “my house is your house.” And you might really mean it. But you might also struggle with concerns and doubts about how you can make it work. There’s no need to feel guilty about this. It’s not so much a statement about the limits of your love than it is a reflection about the realities of your situation.

Whether it’s your mother, sibling, child, or other relative who is moving in, the secrets to making the arrangement a success are communication and planning.


As with all relationships, communication is the key to closeness and cooperation, and to working through conflicts – or avoiding conflict altogether. So, it’s important to talk openly with your family member about the new arrangement.

Make sure that you address any concerns you have before move-in day. If there are any sensitive topics, talk them through until you are both satisfied. Though it may be tempting to try to get through these sometimes difficult conversations in one sitting, it is often better to work through things in multiple conversations. So, after you have talked about the subject a bit, agree to step away and discuss it again after you’ve both had a chance to reflect upon it.

And after your relative has moved in, agree to meet regularly to discuss how the new arrangement is working. You cannot plan for every issue or possibility, so it’s important to have ongoing discussions about the living arrangements. That way, you can identify and address any issues before serious problems arise. Meet often at first – maybe even weekly – and then less often as you fall into a routine and the trouble spots are ironed out. But even as things get settled and all seems well, it is a good idea to keep having occasional regular meetings to ensure that you keep the lines of communication open.


Below are some common issues to address before your relative moves in:

Length of time: Discuss how long your relative plans to stay with you. For instance, your adult child may plan to stay until they get a job or enter graduate school. Or, your parent may plan to stay permanently or until they need more care than you can give.

Be sure to address your limits for their stay. For instance, you might only be willing for your unemployed child to stay as long as they are actively seeking a job. Difficult as it can be, state your limits clearly. Then, if they fail to keep up their part of the bargain, talking about it will be easier.

House space: Discuss where the person will sleep and where they can put their things. You might need to consider storage.  Also, consider whether you will need to do any construction or make accommodations (i.e. creating a kitchenette area or installing a grip bar in the shower for a parent).

Household rules and expectations: Communicate rules and expectations clearly and take time to talk through them together. Here are a few you may want to discuss — you might even want to put them in writing:

  • Rent: Be clear regarding any ways that you expect your relative to contribute financially to the household.
  • Chores: Clearly discuss what chores your relative will do (e.g. babysit, clean) and how often.
  • Curfew: If you are concerned about your relative (especially an adult child) staying out too late, address this up front. Talk with them about what your rules are and why you have them.
  • Parenting: If your parent is moving in and you have children of your own, you may need to remind them whose rules stand when it comes to your children. If this is already an issue in your relationship with your parent, make sure that you address it before they move in.
  • Dating & guests: Consider your comfort zone regarding your relative entertaining guests. For instance, you might not be okay with them throwing a party or having an overnight guest. If this is the case, be upfront and direct about it. (Before you write this off as being unnecessary to do with your elderly mother, are you sure that she won’t be dating?)

By inviting your relative to join you in your home, you are changing your future. With proper communication and planning, you might be opening the door to a wonderfully close relationship that will bring you great happiness.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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