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Dear Therapist: Life in a Multigenerational Household Is Terrible

(Source: theatlantic.com)

Is there any way to change my perspective about these issues or some way I can reach out to others? I’ve basically given up trying to change the situation with my grandparents. I just want to feel better about it at this point.


Dear Evan,

I hear your frustration, and I’m glad you’re taking your own well-being seriously. You say you’re “annoyed,” but I imagine that you might also be feeling overwhelmed, resentful, trapped, and even depressed. You’re right that changing your perspective and reaching out to others can help you feel better, but so can taking the initiative to change your situation, so let’s explore how you can do that.

First, I want to help you think about your circumstances—and how isolating they feel to you—differently. It’s true that not many 24-year-olds are changing their grandparents’ diapers. At the same time, though, you have more in common with your peers than you may realize. Layered on top of the caretaking stress is a challenge that all families with young-adult children contend with in some form: negotiating shifting parent-child roles. And I think this aspect of your struggle has gotten lost in the more emergent crisis of your grandfather’s care.

So let’s look at your current situation and everyone’s role in it. You’ve been living with your mother and grandparents essentially rent-free in exchange for helping with household duties, and until recently the arrangement had been working well. When you were a student, balancing your coursework with your responsibilities at home felt manageable and cut down on expenses, and also offered your mom some support around the house and with her parents. The deal seemed clear.

But then you graduated, and I wonder what everyone thought would happen next. How much had you and your mom and grandparents discussed your post-graduation plans while you were still in school? Was their expectation that you’d start to earn money and begin to support yourself? Was it that you’d live at home and help support them—either financially or practically? What was your expectation? Had you thought about what you wanted to do with your college degree and your interests? Did your grandfather’s fall change any of this? If you haven’t reflected on these questions, a good first step now would be to consider them.

The developmental task of the 20s is to gain a footing as an adult. On the one hand, you’ve already taken on several adult responsibilities—cleaning, doing some cooking, and running household errands, along with caretaking duties that many adults don’t contend with until their own parents need care. In that way, you’re ahead of your peers. But in other ways, your peers may be further along on the transition to adulthood. They may be paying their own bills, living in their own apartments, cooking (and paying for) their own meals (versus occasionally cooking and having one’s meals provided by family). And in order to get to that place, they’ve had to do some problem solving: How do I want to live? What’s important to me? What are my goals? And then: What steps do I need to take to achieve them?

More Info: theatlantic.com

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