On extended family living
Well so far we’re still just 2G living here, although the second G is spread out across an 18-year age range. And instead of parents moving back in with their children, we’ve got adult children who might never move out – and indeed, who might raise their own children here. Tom will be 22 next month, so we’re essentially four years into this particular experiment and, although the real test (when someone moves a partner in, which might never happen, or might result in one or both of them moving out again very quickly!) hasn’t happened yet, we’ve at least got some experience to write about beyond the theoretical.
First, why are we doing this? Mainly because we can. We’ve got enough space here and enough resources to ensure that everyone can have their own private space, plus enough shared space in the middle for us to comfortably enjoy together.
How did we manage that? Very creative use of space. Very careful husbandry – we hardly ever buy anything non-essential, have very cheap, short camping holidays very close to home, drive an old car and never buy in labour. Taking a few very carefully calculated risks and being lucky enough to be able to secure a mortgage to buy the right place at the right time (1997). (Although it didn’t feel like the right time in terms of house prices etc. at the time! We had friends who’d bought a 5-bedroomed house for £15K in the mid-1980s. Five times that ten years later seemed like a frighteningly astronomical sum.) Firmly refusing all offers of further debt, no matter how tempting or necessary they might have seemed at the time.
Fear of debt was one of my main motivations in deciding not to ask the children to leave home when each one grows up. (Note: I’m not asking them to stay either – they all have to make that decision for themselves in as free and unfettered a way as possible. But I want them to know that not ever leaving home is one of the choices that will always be open to them, as will coming back to live here if they do move away. Although I won’t be able to guarantee that no-one will have pinched their bedroom!)
By the time my mortgage is paid off, I’ll have endured the standard 25 years in debt. I don’t want to put my children through the same thing, if I’ve got a choice in the matter. I’ve done everything I can to make sure I do have a choice in the matter, so that they can have one too. I consider it to be one of my responsibilities to them: ensuring they’ve always got somewhere to live, some means of making money, and a sufficiently good education to be able to stay completely debt-free. Being without debt and sharing living costs means they don’t have to seek full time contracted employment if they don’t want to, which has meant they’ve had more choices than usual in wider respects. I’m planning to write more about self employment with low initial capital outlay in a future post.
Benefits of extended family living we’ve enjoyed are as follows:
· Pooling of skills, strengths, talents and preferences: one person can do plumbing, another likes to vac the carpet, there are four adult childcarers and educational facilitators; one likes growing food – another likes buying it! And so on.
· Pooling of funds and sharing of resources: Tom’s business can afford a slack period because there’s other family income to fall back on; in turn it offers some protection in the event of a failure of other sources of income; one electricity/gas/water/TV licence/ council tax/ mortgage account is cheaper than many. Even things like shoes, coats, clothes etc can be swapped around and borrowed/lent easily meaning there’s more choice available for less cost per person.
· There’s good company available without needing to leave the house! Some people like to play and discuss games, others like to talk politics, do crosswords together, cook and eat together or just mess around. There’s usually someone available and willing to share fun time with.
· Increased security. This is the house that never sleeps: someone is always awake, someone is always in.
· We are each other’s nurses and sickness cover. In the event of a crisis, we are each other’s crisis management team!
But there are a few drawbacks:
· It’s not without conflict. Two of the adult siblings in particular struggle to live in the same house peacefully; everyone knows everyone else’s weak points and people wind each other up – although they’re the same old arguments we’ve always had and everyone’s got used to it, so it’s not really much of a problem.
· Taking friends home always involves the whole family, straight away. This can be good and bad. It’s a bit more difficult to have a private life though – although possible. All four adults have managed it.
· People think we’re weird! Other relatives have really struggled to come to terms with what we’re doing: they think it’s just wrong and we’ve been shunned and criticised by them. But for us, this is just another continuation of our experiences of home educating. They were just the same about that. Some people get really disturbed by breaches of social norms, even ones that have obvious benefits and few drawbacks.
Overall, I’d add that it’s because we’re closely related family who have always lived and spent our time together that this works so well for us. We really respect, know and love each other and this is a bond that can’t really be replicated, I don’t think, in any other way.