One day last week, the weather was exceptionally lovely. I decided to sit on a bench in front of the Tribune offices and enjoy the fresh air. A friend and fraternity brother, who was passing by, joined me and we engaged in some small talk. I knew that his father had passed a few months ago and I asked how his mother was making out during, what must be a difficult time. My friend told me that he had moved in with his mother, a move that I thought was a good one given his mother was living alone. My friend agreed and reminded me of a practice that was so common when I was growing up. It was not unusual, back in the day, for a family to move in and live with another family.
When first married, some of you may have lived with parents or in-laws. My wife and I were not in this category as we moved into our own home, immediately after leaving Smyrna, Delaware, where our wedding and reception were held. But, for a variety of reasons, some newly married couples lived with their parents or in-laws. Now, let me make it clear, I see nothing wrong with such arrangements.
I spoke with several individuals that lived with their parents and in-laws after marriage. The reasons varied with each case. One couple told me that it was because of financial reasons; they had limited resources and needed a place to live while they saved money to obtain an apartment or purchase a home. In the case of another couple, an unexpected pregnancy required marriage and they had no place to live. Marriage was a must? Yes, unplanned pregnancies when couples were not married often resulted in a shot-gun wedding, unlike today. Back then, most parents would not tolerate daughters having a child out of wedlock. Thus, unplanned pregnancies sometimes resulted in rushed marriages, marriages that were not a part of a couple’s financial plans.
Living with family members may not have been the most desirable alternative but it worked for many couples. The reasons differed and the arrangements were also different. I learned of one case, when the couple moved in with the young lady’s parents, they maintained separate eating arrangements. Each family purchased their own food; maintained a separate refrigerator; prepared their own food; and ate at different times. As for the use of bathroom facilities, they were fortunate because they lived on the third floor of her mother’s three-story home and there was a bathroom on the third floor. As for the use of the clothes washer and dryer, this was not an issue as both families went out to a laundromat. They watched television separately in the living room or their bedrooms. However, there was one thing that they did do together; they went to church together. In the case of another other couple, the families did everything as one family; meals were prepared for both families, they ate together, shared laundry tasks, and watched television together. They functioned as one household.
I have learned of some interesting positions expressed by various individuals on the Internet with regard to living with parents. One lady indicated that she and her husband lived much of their entire marriage with her mother and would not hesitate to do it again. Her mother took care of all of the household chores, took care of their child, and even paid many of the bills. While their arrangement worked well, I came across other Internet accounts of married couples that had bad experiences living with their parents. A major complaint was the lack of privacy. There were issues such as the involvement of one’s parents or in-laws in personal decisions and maintaining privacy in sexual relationships one’s spouse. Can you imagine the difficulty in maintaining privacy in one’s sexual relationships when your room was a few doors down the hall from your parents or in-laws? Challenging I would think.
A novel reason another couple sited as a reason to live with their parents was because the couple wanted the opportunity to learn from a couple who had God rooted at the center of their marriage. This couple felt they had a front row seat to view a winning relationship. I wonder how many couples embraced this reason for living with their parent’s or in-law’s.
It was not just newly married couples that lived with other family members in the past. My maternal grandmother and her niece lived with my family when I was about three or four years of age. In fact, my grandmother and her two sisters, each reared daughters of a family member when the family was facing a challenge. I praise this type of love and care by family members which often went beyond expectations to keep family together.
As a youth, one of our neighbors who lived down the street from me permitted a family of ten, who had some financial challenges, to live in the three rooms on the third floor of her home. You may recall that homelessness was not common in the lifestyle of Black folks in the past. Regardless of our own financial means, we always cared for one another; a concept that has been left, back in the day.
For those that frown on married couples, brothers, sisters, cousins or others moving in with family members, try not to be too critical. Check out the research and you will find that the multi-generational family is making a comeback, driven in part by job losses and home foreclosures. You may find yourselves being confronted with the dreadful circumstance of being homeless as opposed to moving in with your parents or other family members until there are better times, something that some of you reading this column did, back in the day.