Two years ago, when Edith was just about to be born, Philip and I decided we wanted to move closer to family. Seeing that his family had been in the same house since he was 3 years-old - whereas my family hadn’t stayed in a house for longer than five - it made much more sense to move to his family in Maryland than to my family, then in Florida. We were living in Massachusetts at the time, but as soon as a job in Maryland worked out, we took it. (Quite hilariously, my family actually moved to Maryland within the same year.)
We weren’t moving just to be near Philip’s parents. His older sister and her family had already moved back to the area; his older, unmarried brother lived at home along with his younger siblings college age or younger; and his younger married sister hoped to move back to the area with her family as well, as soon as her husband’s job allowed.
So we were making a clear choice. The job Philip was taking was far from his dream job, but we had decided that living near family was our top priority. Both of us found this article resonated with us.
When we were making the move, the plan was to live with Philip’s parents until we could save up enough for our own place. They have a large house and would transform the old boys’ room (the second floor of a three car garage) into a sort of studio apartment (minus the kitchen). Our own bathroom would be just down the hall, part of a landing that could be closed off from the rest of the house. It was pretty ideal, to say the least. But in my mind, this was a two-year arrangement, max.
Just before we moved down, Philip’s older sister and her family also moved into the house. They had put their house in Northern Virginia on the market and were looking to move even closer to home. They took the small apartment originally built as an addition within the garage for Nonna who had since passed away. They purposely took the smaller accommodation as they didn’t want to be too comfortable. They didn’t want to stay for long. At the time, they had three kids 3 and under.
So what we hadn’t bargained for when we made our decision to move to Maryland, or at least what I hadn’t, was that we weren’t just going to be living near family; we were going to be living with family. A lot of family.
Let me first say that I consider myself incredibly blessed to have such amazing in-laws. They don’t fit the in-law stereotype. (Yes, most people’s initial response when we first moved down and one that still comes up is: “You’re living with your in-laws?” Read: “Are you out of your mind?!”) Honestly, I fell pretty hard in love with Philip’s family off the bat.
But, living with family is never an easy thing. Little character ticks can become serious pet peeves. There are multiple ways of loading the dishwasher or of doing any household task for that matter. More often than not, cooking dinner means cooking for a crowd. And of course, there are different approaches to parenting.
But nothing stretches you like living with family. If you have a precise way of doing something, don’t get too attached. Someone else probably doesn’t. Think there is only one way to discipline a kid? Think again. Want your own space? Well, sometimes that’s just not a possibility. Someone getting particularly on your nerves? Sorry, but they’re not going anywhere!
The funny thing is that none of these challenges are new. I mean, the same difficulties are faced living with your spouse throughout marriage. Or living with your children. But they come particularly to the forefront when you’re living with extended family. Maybe because you are so clearly not in control. While it’s good to have systems and routines, it’s important not to cling to them at the expense of others. And that’s what living with family does. Whether you like it or not, you can’t stay in your own world. You are forced to encounter others. The attitude you take, though, is yours.
Since moving down here, Philip’s sister and family have found a house and moved out. We’re still here. Having started a farming business in the backyard with Philip’s parents and older brother (more on that in a future post!), we’re not likely moving out anytime soon. So much for a two-year max — we’ve passed that! Though the number of people in the house has scaled down, we’re still challenged to be flexible. Besides, nearby family members visit regularly, sometimes quite frequently based on needs. That’s when I think of all that I am so grateful for living with and near family.
“Cousins” is a much used word in Edith’s vocabulary. I was never close to my cousins, but I wouldn't trade the friendships I have with my many siblings for anything. I'm incredibly happy that Edith will not only have those friendships, but those with her cousins as well.
There are always plenty of people to appreciate a cooked meal. And, yes, while I might not always maintain joy and calm amidst the preparation, the pleasure of the crowd rewards the effort. Plus, there's help with the dishes.
Child care is built in, for all the mothers. Knowing that there is another pair of eyes basically anywhere else in the house is invaluable. It relieves so much anxiety.
The burden of housework is shared. Meals are alternated along with basic tidying up. Sometimes you'll find your laundry stacked and folded.
We don’t pay rent. That is just one small part of Mom & Dad Barrows’ generosity. They have made it clear that not only should we save our money, but that they are happy for us to live with them. There is no pressure or expectation of their being owed. (Our gratitude impels us to pitch in however and wherever we can!) Largely thanks to that same generosity, Philip is pursuing his dream job. Again, his parents are more than on board -- they're much involved and again, happy to be so.
Philip, our girls, and I are surrounded by people who love and support us. Unconditionally. When my patience runs out with the kids, someone is there to point out their good side. While we all love each other, none of us are blind to each other's faults. If you need to vent, you have the perfect environment to do so. Plus, it's more difficult to completely loose it in a shouting match. There are other people around, holding you accountable.
When we have a need, someone is there to help pull our slack. And we can return the favor. In fact, relying on others isn't taking them for granted. It's expected. That's why we're here. That's what family is for.
Community is never lacking. Every dinner we come to the table and talk. In fact, most times throughout the day, there is someone to talk to. I'm never confined to endless child conversations. Or at least, not solely those.
Traditions flourish. The work that goes into making and maintaining traditions is shared. Having others around to bounce ideas off keeps up the energy and creativity.
There are ample opportunities to serve others, to experience the joy of giving.
Let it be said, however, that we still do need time as our own little family. So we've made sure to build separate activities into our pace of life. Taking family walks on Sunday, for instance. Or making the effort to take a day trip every so often. We've also worked to make our room off limits, just to preserve privacy and space for when we need it. Probably the hardest thing to navigate when living with so much family is hosting. Mom & Dad Barrows are more than happy for us to have company, but sometimes we'd like more intimate time with friends. But that's when we take advantage of times the rest of the family is out of the house! In the end, it all works out.
And while I'd love to have my own house and home (and that is the goal!), I'm grateful for this time we have now and know I'll miss it later. Now to keep that in mind the next time the going gets tough.