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The New Laws For Living With Your In-Laws

18/08/2015 7:56 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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When I tell people I live with my boyfriend's family, I always get the same reaction. "Oh god, how's that going?" they say, like they'd rather eat crushed glass than sleep (ahem) a wall away from the almost in-laws and their offspring.

But as property prices continue to soar, multi­-generational living seems more appealing than eating noodles every night or sharing a bathroom with someone who doesn't know how to use a toilet brush.

It's definitely a trend, says Avril Henry, leadership consultant and author of Inspiring Tomorrows Leaders Today; Breaking Down Generational Barriers at Work.

"It's being driven by Gen Y not being able to afford the same standard of living that their Baby Boomer parents provided," Henry says. "In that way, we Baby Boomers have indulged our kids."

"But, what about sex?" people whisper, wide eyed with concern. God forbid we do it like teenagers on the top floor of a car park.

Yes, it happens. Yes, you have to be quiet. Yes, they hear you anyway, and they always bring it up on long car trips or at birthday dinners when you can't escape.

Questions from the parents like "so, have you ever had a threesome?" only happen after a few too many wines, as my best mate discovered late one Saturday night. My advice ­ deflect this one.

There really is no right answer.

The "when are we getting some grand kids?" debate sounds rather more tiresome. "They ask practically every day!" exclaimed a friend. "I'm actually considering adopting a small child for his parents to keep them occupied."

So how do the parents feel about having two twenty-­something hipsters kissing in the kitchen?

"Boomers love hanging out with our Gen Y kids," Henry says. "A lot of empty nesters really struggle."

A mate of mine, who lives with his parents and his girlfriend, agreed. "My parents have a big house and they get lonely with nobody home. And Mum likes the fact that my girlfriend often agrees with her when I'm being a shit."

Another said "I think they really adore having a young "daughter" in the house. They love her more than they love me!"

It's a far cry from the teenage boy-­girl sleepover debate, which has had mums twisting their knickers since sex was invented.

But according to Henry, many Boomers allow their teenagers to have their partners sleep over, and we're all used to it.

However, one parent I spoke to is fed up. "There is absolutely nothing worse than waking up on your Sunday to find three strangers sitting around your kitchen bench wanting to communicate with you. It drives me insane."

Whatever you decide, Henry says it's really important to have boundaries for your adult kids and their partners.

"Especially if you choose not to charge board, there needs to be respect for space and time. I had simple rules with my kids and their partners ­ clean up after yourself, always ask if you want to use something, put petrol in the car ­ and if I was unhappy with something I made it known," she said.

For me, having the opportunity to observe a family so unlike my own, a different way of loving, of fighting, of sharing and of communicating, brings so much more than it takes away.

I had "no rescue" parents (which, for the uninitiated, is the opposite of helicopter parents). I was always losing jazz shoes and school notes and rocking up on school mufti day in my uniform, which very quickly taught me independence and organisation.

On the other hand, my boyfriend's Mum has trained me in the art of hand washing, and his Dad has shown me how to do my tax and use a cordless drill.

Learning new skills and teaching old ones creates a messy, beautiful, patchwork family where you're not together because you have to be, but because you want to be.

Just make sure everyone knows how to use the toilet brush!

This blog first appeared in August.

*Please note the family pictured above is in no way associated with Bella Westaway.

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