My parents moved in and they show no sign of leaving

I don't want to kick them out, but I'd like to be able to walk naked to the bathroom, and watch my own TV shows.

Published May 24, 2005 7:51PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Three years ago, I was 21 years old and had just moved into an apartment with my future husband. Around the same time, my parents put their house on the market. My dad, an over-the-road truck driver, was planning on picking up a job in a new city, and my mom wanted a change because she had never lived anywhere else before. The house quickly sold and they packed everything up. While deciding where they would move next, they moved in with me and my husband. My dad was offered a very good job with a trucking company here in town and so they decided to stay. They moved out of our apartment a month later and into an apartment of their own.

A year went by and my parents were regularly out on the road together. My mom casually mentioned one day that it was a shame that they were renting their own place when they were there so little. It struck me that perhaps renting a larger apartment together would be a great thing to do. While searching for a new apartment, my husband and I came up with the brilliant idea of buying our own home. We found a small house we liked; my parents gave us money for the down payment in lieu of a year's worth of rent and everyone moved in.

After a few months of this living arrangement, things started to change. My dad would go out on the road and my mom would stay back. Sometimes she was back for only a week; other times, an entire month. Once, my mom mentioned that she would like to get a part-time job again and maybe stay off the road for a few months at a time. I told her that I would respect whatever she wanted to do, but if she was to get a job then she and my dad would have to move out because the living arrangement would be too awkward. She agreed and never brought it up again.

It's been exactly one year since we had that conversation and my parents will have been living with us for two years come December. My mom is currently staying back for the next six weeks because she has been called for jury duty and wants to attend a friend's wedding in June.

Cary, thinking about my current living arrangement makes me depressed. I think what depresses me is that I don't see this changing. My parents do not seem embarrassed by the situation and I think they would be content living with my husband and me for the rest of their lives. Am I wrong for wanting to kick my parents out of my house? Sometimes I feel like I should appreciate what I have now because I know they will not be around forever. On the other hand, I miss being able to go out to dinner alone with my husband without worrying about hurting my mom's feelings. I miss being able to walk naked from the bedroom to the bathroom. I miss being able to choose what I'd like to watch on my own television.

I need advice on how to start a conversation with my parents. Ideally, I would like them to be moved out of our house by December, but realistically I would appreciate if they just had some sort of plan of action. Telling them this, however, will be the easy part. What I really need is a way to motivate them to get out on their own, whether in this town or somewhere new. I need to find a way to push my mother out of the nest so she can fly. How can I do this and be firm without hurting anyone's feelings?

Restless Sleeper

Dear Restless Sleeper,

I think it would be best if your mom did take a part-time job and found a nearby place for her and your dad to live. Why don't you propose that to her? Since taking a part-time job is something she already is thinking about, it's a good place to start talking. In that context, however, you can also say that you want to help her find a new place.

By beginning the conversation this way, you don't have to go into all the negatives about having them around the house. It doesn't have to come off like you're pushing them out. It can be presented as a project. You can explain to your mom that you are planning ahead. If you are considering having kids (even if you're not sure yet), it makes sense to have the space available. So if it is couched that way, it could be a conversation about the future instead of a conversation about what a drag it is to have your parents living with you.

I'm not just suggesting you use that as an excuse to get them out, either. I really do think it's a good idea. Your mom is no longer caring for you, and she's tired of being on the road, and she's given up her home, so she needs a home and something useful to do. A part-time job and a new house will give her those things. She will have greater independence while remaining close to you. And when and if you do have kids, you will find her very useful indeed, while not always underfoot.

You know, there are some other things I'd like to mention, if I may beg your indulgence. For one thing, the subtext here is the reversal of parent and child roles. Did you ever imagine that you would be trying to get your mother out of the nest? Isn't that odd? But that's what happens as our parents get older: We begin to parent them.

Another thing: While this whole situation could conceivably be arranged without anyone ever saying directly how they actually feel, it is also an opportunity to at least acknowledge the powerful forces at work. Your family is changing. Your parents are slowing down. And certain patterns that have long shaped your relationship with your parents may be reemerging. For instance, I'm guessing that you are, in relation to your parents, more of a take-charge type. As you take charge once again, you may find yourself feeling resentful of your parents for being such slackers! So here is a thought about that: I am in your parents' generation. I feel like I sort of know your parents. I look around at my peers from high school and I see a generation of aging hippies who are finally mellowing out, slowing down and wanting to enjoy life. Many of us were never all that ambitious to begin with; as a generation, if I can be so general as that, we hunger more for soulfulness in our lives than for achievement; we are not very materialistic. We have a kind of hippie-ish, loose passivity about life, a desire for comfort and simplicity and a seeming lack of drive. Along with that comes a powerful spiritual instinct. We want to be free spirits and to live in a soulful way close to loved ones. We are dreamers. We have been somewhat romantic, unrealistic and short-sighted in our lives.

Consequently, many of us will find ourselves partly dependent on our children and other family. People of your age are already beginning to take on the parental role. That is happening sooner in this generation than in mine.

I had no role in taking care of my parents until they were in their late 70s. They were utterly and determinedly self-sufficient. Having grown up in the Depression, they never expected help from anyone. We, however, beneficiaries of the New Deal and an economic boom, grew up in an easier time. We screwed around a lot, frankly, because we could! Things again became tougher for your generation, and you have responded by being more fiscally responsible and more self-sufficient.

I know that is all quite general, but maybe it will help to view what is happening between you and your parents in broader context. Anyway, there is much more I could say, but I should curb my hippie-ish tendency to blab on and on, man. So good luck. I think you can make this work if you approach it in a constructive way.

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