Living with Relatives

Sometimes an unschooling family ends up living with their inlaws. When the Always Learning list is asked for advice, it's usually by the mom, and the parents are sometimes her husband's parents. Questions suggest that a mother has complete rights to treat her children as she wishes, regardless of where she is. Some ask things like how to get the mother or mother-in-law (the children's grandmother) to accept every idea the daughter-in-law has about unschooling and giving children weird new choices.

I've often said that choices apply in one's own home, but not in someone else's, and that if children were in my home (whether visitors or my grandchildren) I was going to have an opinion, and some preferences, and some limits.

In October, 2012, Alex N. wrote the best advice for people sharing a home that I've seen, and so I have saved it here with her permission. For readers of "Always Learning," it was October 28, 2012.


Just a couple thoughts from someone who has had adult in-laws move in with us for 2 1/2 years ongoing and 16 mos just moved out today. Your parents probably feel trapped too. To you the reasons may seem unavoidable. To them, fair or not, they may at least in part see it as the result of of a string of bad or questionable decisions that you made that adversely affected them. (Please don't take this as a request to elaborate--it doesn't matter!) In my experience that would make them understandably leary of any new decisions that you make that are not the most obvious right choice. If that is true, and possibly even if not, making an issue out of whether you are right is going to be a lot less effective than focusing as an individual and parent on gratitude for their generosity (whether or not you pay some of the bills), what you enjoy doing together, and building connections with them. What positive things can they offer you and your kids?

Have you been taking advantage of the opportunity for your kids to hear family stories and ask questions about how their lives/the world used to be different? We very often ask my daughter's grandma and great-grandparents about things we encounter during the week, and how they used to be. Some stuff is boring to my daughter now at 5 but some is fascinating and/or hilarious, like how people celebrated holidays, and what were new inventions back in the day--like tape! Might this be a good time for you to formalize some family history research with interviews, research, trees etc? has a free trial and more than one family member can sign up one after another. There's a book called Listening Is An Act of Love that has a great list of family history questions, and your library & the internet probably have similar resources. Notice I said YOU. You can do this, all this, for everyone, and your parents will feel loved and appreciated and happy that their grandkids are being exposed to them and history--a real school subject!--through it. Family history documentation makes a good holiday gift when money is tight. I also find that asking people in a positive way what they enjoyed, remembered, and really was able to apply later from school is interesting for both of us. You may be not ready for that with your family if you're in an adversarial rut.

It's a real gift to learn how to ask questions that make people feel like you're interested in them. It's even more awesome to learn how to ask people who seem boring questions that will prompt them to tell you interesting things. The longer you live, the more weird crap you see. :)

Everyone wants peace where they live. Most if not all people want to fully relax alone, sometimes. It's nice when in someone else's home to let them know when they can expect you to be gone for a while so they can anticipate and enjoy that peace. Going out a lot is often good for unschooling anyway. If you pack lunches, you and your kids choose what you bring, and that can help you be more relaxed about the food situation when you are at home. I don't know if you're being questioned a lot, but being out for a long time and coming home with library books or having said you were at the library (doing what you want) could give an impression of "educating."

The flip side is making sure that anyone you're staying with feels that you value spending time with them. If you secretly schedule a weekly time for yourself when you check in with one or both of them with only the plan of being friendly, pleasant, and asking how they are doing, it will take a lot of strain off the relationship. At least that's our experience coming from the other end. Or maybe you could have a special theme night the same night every week--game night, or some kind of food thing where you cook dinner.

If you focus on what you can do to help your parents relax in general, you will reap the benefits of them being more relaxed in general, and model kindness for your kids. My MIL works with little kids and finds it wonderfully theraputic when I set up craft projects for her and my kid. I got pissed off and swore to my husband I wasn't going to do all the work to maintain our relationship any more at one point, but she has warm fuzzy feelings about me when I do, and then I like her more too, and everyone wins.

Alex N.

Relatives: Seeing and Dealing with Differences Responding to family members On Dealing with Relatives (chat transcript and links)