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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

Overheard within a family home:

Child 1:You can’t just leave your mess around and expect somebodyelse to clean it up!

Child 2:Who asked you to clean it up? I’ll get to it later.

Child 1: But I need to use the kitchen now and I don’t want to do it in your mess! Have some courtesy!

Child 2:What’s the big deal? It’s just a few dishes.

Child 1:So justclean it up.

Child 2:Later…

Child 1 and Child 2:MOM!!

The argument taking place could happen at any time, among any two children in a family. This argument, however, is between two married sisters who have come to live with their parents for the summer.Sibling rivalry has been activated over the cleanliness of the kitchen. Mom is so happy to have all her children under one roof again, so happy to be able enjoy her children and grandchildren simultaneously – only now she is being called in to referee. Oy!

Summertime often means the return of married children to the family home. Of course, they have their own families now, which can engender territorial and philosophical conflicts in many areas, including but not limited to, dinnertime, choice of meals, bedtime, discipline, division of household duties, and the level of cleanliness. During the rest of the year, we privately establish household rules that work for us as a family. When multiple familieslive together, though, those “rules” may not always align.

For instance, one sister may be very diligent about getting her children to sleep at a certain hour, while the other takes a laid-back approach. This may cause a conflict when the structured mother begins to hear her children complain that it isn’t fair that their cousins get to stay up later than them. Yet another potential conflict is food – one mother may be very diligent in keeping her children away from foods that are high in sugar while the other mother remains unconcerned about it.

These philosophical differences can easily create tension and turn into arguments. However, showing one another mutual respect and the desire to cooperate will make sharing a living space more pleasant for all involved.

Achieving harmony for eight weeks of cohabitation may require that you raise or lower your usual standards. But the benefits – building strong bonds between cousins, grandchildren, and grandparents and creating positive memories together – certainly outweigh any inconvenience you’ll experience.

Suggestions on How to Make
Sharing a Living Space a Pleasant Experience:

At the start of the summer, create a schedule that divides up household duties - i.e. the shopping, cleaning, and cooking. Some families decide that the “girls” will cook meals during the week (establishing a menu together and dividing up the nights) and Mom will only cook for Shabbat. One family created a centralized shopping list where everyone added the things they needed and then took turns doing the shopping.

If there are multiple housekeepers in the house, establish the divisionof labor for them in order to set clear expectations and reduce
potential conflicts.

Set aside “grand”time where grandparents and grandchildren can have a special outing or activity without any parents in sight. This will give grandparents time to “spoil” the kids without undermining their parents’ authority.

Be respectful of each others’ parenting styles. If a mother does not allow her child to have sweets, try not to offer any to your children in their presence. If a mother does allow sweets, do not lecture his or her children on how harmful sugar can be.

Don’t criticize or intervene when a parent is disciplining a child unless it is to encourage the child’s cooperation. It can undermine a parent if Mom says “no” but Grandma says “yes.”

Avoid criticizing how husbands and wives interact or making “helpful” suggestions on how they can do better within theirmarriage. As a general rule, don’t offer advice unless asked for it.

As the flip side of the above suggestion, have all private conversations with your spouse in private.This will reduce the urge of those overhearing to take sides and “help.”