Embracing my inner mooch: learning to love living with my boyfriend's parents

April 11 | Guest post by Amber

I'm starting to appreciate the full range of benefits of co-habitating with my boyfriend's family, a lifestyle formerly known to me as "mooching." Admittedly, I originally was eager to partake in the no-rent, frequent-free-meals, high-quality-shower type of benefits. These selfish reasons are certainly the temptation of every low-life mooch. I felt less guilty, however, after I read Little House on a Small Planet.

A central theme of the book is that more house equals more waste. It's wasted energy to heat and cool, wasted land and resources and space for other species, wasted time because it takes more work to afford it and more housework to maintain it — basically that houses can waste time and be a drain to Planet Earth.

A year ago my partner and I were heating our cabin in Washington, my partner's brother was heating his downtown Austin apartment, and my partner's parents were heating this whole house. First the brother moved into the house, then we followed. The house that was supporting two now supports five people and three dogs. By sharing a single house, this family and I are using a more responsible portion of the world's resources.

In the middle class United States, it is common for a child to grow up, leave a bedroom empty in his/her parents' house, and create a new household with a mate. Sometimes this new household is new construction, tearing up land that has never been built on, creating new roads, mining, smelting, shipping materials of various toxicities, and so forth. Meanwhile, that empty bedroom is still being heated and cooled, as a "guest room" or maybe a "sewing room." Bummer for Earth. Not to mention new households mean new household goods, which have to be manufactured, transported, stored, and eventually fill up the landfill.

Our tendency to create our own lovenests makes us a "neolocal" society. Back in the day it was perfectly normal to move in with the folks — and it still is in other cultures. These kinds of families can share labor, expenses, and childcare. With so many of us struggling economically, maybe it's time to think about what we lose when we trade the clan for a nuclear family.

Having a neolocal society means that we also lose some benefits of community. New construction leads to sprawl, and sprawl often leads to de-centralization of community. Isolated and fearful, some families try to install community through structured programs or youth groups. Many kids are shuttled from door to door by way of car door.

The more I gain by being around my partner's family, the more I wish I could gather all my loved ones in one place. What if I could ride a bike instead of taking a plane to visit them? What if I could babysit for my long-time friend? What if I could share dinner with my chosen clan every night?

Being here has made me feel supported in every sense of the word. I have more free time and money. I have an extra mom, dad, and big brother that give me love as well as space. I don't have a child, but my dog is getting much better socialized now that he has two other dogs, three other human caretakers, and a big fenced yard in his life.

I lived the most difficult way possible out of socially-conditioned pride, but now I see the benefits found on the other side of stigma. Of course, this is not to say I'll live here forever. To live my ideals, accomplish my goals and not live as a mooch, it behooves me to create my own home/community and share it with others. Until we find our own place, I continue to HIGHLY appreciate the eco-friendly hand-out. (Thank you, family!)

  1. From an environmental point of view, the best way of living would be in gigantic skyscrapers, with as many people as possible in as little space as possible, and everything in walking distance. Unfortunately (for the planet), this would drive most people mad in the long run…

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    • I actually disagree. From an environmental standpoint, modern buildings (and cities) are terrible. Ideally, we learn how to live with the earth again like indigenous people always have and still do, and we learn how to give up technological convenience in favor of a community-based lifestyle that doesn't destroy the earth.

      Just some food for thought. :)

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      • I don't think that kind of lifestyle could support the Earth's current population, though.

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  2. This would be my ideal- maybe a duplex with a common kitchen or 'great room'? I currently live with my husband and my brother in the house I grew up in with my parents and siblings. It's a cozy house, but we have two unused bedrooms. It feels inefficient and wasteful, even though it would not be easy to have anyone else live with us (the two unused bedrooms are tiny! and are mostly used for storage of unused art supplies. Ugh! So much not being utilized!)

    Of course, it really helps if you get along with the people you're living with. My husband and I lived with my grandparents for five years. It was hell on earth. They treated us like naughty teenagers, even AFTER we got married. They calmed down a bit towards the end, but the pounding on the door at six in the morning got really, really old.

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  3. I support mooching now more than I ever did before. I've seen what it can do to help your wallet fatten up, how your time gets freed up by delegation of responsibilities and so on

    All the same, I agree that it will be nice to create your own place for others to mooch in with you for a change :)

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  4. I think the idea of extended family living together is awesome, but I find it hard to relate to people who live with extended family for free once they are past their early twenties. If my children were to ever live with me at that age (or if I ever returned home to live with my parents) I would want things split evenly, or as close to that as possible (e.g. my Mom never uses internet, and my husband and I are on it constantly, so maybe we would pay for all of that). I like the extended family living together in less space, I don't like the "mooching".

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    • I know people who've done the mooching thing and moved back in with their parents over and over. Whilst the companionship is nice the mooching aspect ultimately destroyed the relationship every single time. I think the worst case was three grown kids, their partners and all 8 of their preteen kids moving back into their parents 3 bedroom house. Mom never got to stop being mom and have the rest she deserved. It took a hospitalisation to get them back out of the house.

      Once you're an adult surely you should treat your parents as equals rather than a source of free food. Housemates, not providers. If grown kids and parents must live together make sure everyone has their own space and everyone pays what they can/should for what they use.

      I couldn't do it. Too many issues with people leaving the bathroom doors wide open, constant shouting (industrial deafness fail) and the fact that rent there would probably be more than our mortgage. I don't think any of our parents would contemplate letting us live with them for free anyway, we get an itemised bill when we visit for the weekend!

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      • I kind of agree with this, although I really believe it all comes down to the individuals involved and how you navigate that relationship.

        I lived with my in-laws for a short time, before my partner and I bought our own place, and honestly, I would really try to avoid doing that again.

        I'm hugely grateful to them for letting me stay, it allowed us to have money aside to get our own place (I already had most of it, but it meant we could be together without eating into that money for rent).

        But it wasn't until we moved out that my partner was able to have an adult relationship with his parents. Things have improved greatly with space, and knowing them and knowing us, I would honestly say that we could not live together long-term and have as good a relationship as we do now.

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  5. We're doing the opposite–my partner and I have been supporting my mom for the last year and basically funding two separate households. No more! This fall, we're moving her in with us in a bigger house that's only a bit more each month than what we're paying for both places now (not to mention the savings we'll have in energy, utilities, food, etc…). Most people look at us like we're absurd to be moving a parent back in when we've only lived alone for ~3 years, but we couldn't be happier! Sharing the resources is the best thing for us right now. We're so looking forward to the move!

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  6. It's a cool idea, and if I got along better with my mother it could be an idea. We learned during my last mooching session (a brief time of relocation and finding a job and a place to live) that it would drive both of us nuts. She could not adjust to treating me like an adult because we fell into the family dynamic of mother/daughter. Reorganizing the house based on our choices rather than hers would be difficult. Add on that my dude and I both have hobbies/professions that require space (craft storage, musical instruments, art supplies) we're happy to be moving into a slightly larger house on our own and taking up a bit more space. I agree, it is a waste in some ways, but we will try to make efficient use of the space.

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  7. Thanks for posting this! Yes, I have to acknowledge that we had an ideal situation, in that my partner's parents were totally awesome. Also, their sons went away to boarding school in high school, so they had a very different attitude about their boys returning home. A) They were excited because they hadn't all lived together or even near each other since the boys were like 13, and they felt like they had missed out some and B) the boarding school situation created a dynamic of independent children and parents eager to connect with them however they could. So there was already a respectful, adult relationship culivated. Ultimately,we felt we needed to move out and be able to re-establish our own life and home, but it was definitely a relationship builder, not destroyer.

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  8. I love this idea in theory, but I feel like I need my own space too much. We used to live with my partner's sister (and later, her boyfriend ended up basically moving in with us too), and by the time they left, I was tearing my hair out in frustration!

    I think the problem with us is that we had a hard time agreeing on basic ground rules. Stuff like who cleans what and when, etc.

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  9. I'm in a similar situation now, but my partner and I do pay rent; we live with a roommate who owns our apartment and is cutting us a deal for putting up with his quirks, clutter, and guests. Thankfully roommate's partner lives on a farm outside of the city and so he is rarely home. Basically he hooked us up royally with a really nice condo for deeply discounted rent in the super-crazy rental market of NYC.

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  10. I think you really have to have a good vibe of sharing and equality if you move back in with the 'rents. And you have to be able to stand living with them. I for one, would really, really, really miss having my own kitchen. I could probably live with my boyfriends parents (they live out in the country), and I could live with my parents, but I don't think my boyfriend could. Lol. Poor man, he's slightly terrified of my mother.

    Neat article, but can't we see any pictures of the house? And how do your parents feel about having everyone back under one roof? Do you share expenses and/or otherwise contribute to the household?

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    • Thank you. I'm not comfortable sharing pics of their house. We did do some projects for them, such as building raised garden beds, putting down paving stones, and building an earth oven (outdoor, woodfire pizza/bread style). But it would be a misrepresentation to pretend like it was a reciprocal arrangement in any way other than love. They totally saved my life at the point in which I just needed refuge. They are hugely wonderful people. Also, as I said above, they haven't gotten to live near their son (my partner) much in the last 15 years, so they were super excited to have us. Their gracious hosting led to us putting permanent roots here, which I think is a dream come true for them, so ultimately it was win-win.

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  11. I definitely appreciate this article. As a recent graduate, I've "boomeranged" back home temporarily. I've had a tough time dealing with the idea of having to stay at home with my mother AND grandmother. Knowing that my presence is environmentally helpful is a plus, though I can't imagine staying for a long time due to personal preference and my engagement.However, some time to bond with them before establishing my own household isn't so bad.

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  12. Definitely appreciated the article and will have to show this to my fiancee in the morning. We just (less than a week ago) drove our two vehicles 17 hours south from Washington to California to move in with my grandparents and help take care of the house, the dogs and mostly my Opa who just turned 88. My grandma gets the rest/relaxation she deserves, Opa and the dogs all get the attention they need, we get loving family and pretty cute animals and friends all around, and free room and board to boot. So even though we're doing a good thing here, I was feeling a little moochie and a little sad that we won't be in our own home when we get married. So thank you!

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  13. Thank you for this! My boyfriend and I are about to move in with his parents, and while I suppose it isn't quite as eco-friendly as would be ideal (his parents being in Florida half the year) this really helps me look at the concept in a new light. I am not anxious about being a mooch, but I only ever saw my impending living situation as a very short term one. In the light of your article, instead of a stepping-stone of sorts I can more comfortably considering this a fairly "middle-term" situation until we truly feel we are truly ready (both financially and training wise) to "move where the work is" and fully commit to our chosen careers.

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  14. You're welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting. Update: I was at a lodge in New Mexico in August, and Shay Salomon randomly showed up one night! I got to hang out with the author of Little House on a Small Planet! She was really cool and down to earth. She said it took her 10 years to write the book. It was amazing to be around her. Thus, I now double encourage you all to buy or at least read this awesome book!!

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  15. At 18 I moved out of my father's home when I went to college. I moved back in upon graduation for about 3-4 months. I did this routine a couple of times through moving for jobs and such. My last stint I had thought I would stay for the 2 years I am doing my masters. This seemed totally fine! I was saving lots of money and got to spend lots of time with my pops! Like my dad, I'm a busy person so neither of us is home a lot; I didn't have to worry about cleaning because he hired a cleaning lady (although I cleaned my own room). I was able to help my dad with money as well since I was saving money.

    But that is where the fun ended. My father still views me as his baby girl and thus, often treats me this way. He also has a fair amount of depression and while I'm dealing with my own, I'm not good at handling both of ours! lol

    My partner was also living with his parents to save money ad recently moved out, His spending habits aren't great at home and his parents, despite his being 31 and my being 25, are not ok with his partner staying over night. That wouldn't be such a problem except that we live an hour and a half away from each other!

    On another note, I'm pretty sure some day my father will park his RV in my yard and live there! haha! This, I'm totally fine with!

    I loved this article and if ever I need to move in with my parents again, my partners parents, or they with us, this will definitely help to place on the positives list!!! So thank you!

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