Moving into my in-laws' could've infantilized me. But we worked to make it empowering.

Sure, I missed "me time" and time alone with my wife — a lot. But I also truly became a member of their family and valued our experiences together.
Image: a new beginning, Close up of a couple holding hands over a carton box and moving home
We were two children living under someone else’s roof, riddled with adult responsibilities, waiting like teenagers for our chance to move out and have lives of our own.Cunaplus_M.Faba / Getty Images/iStockphoto
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By Raj Tawney

Before my now-wife, Michelle, and I made the decision to temporarily move in with her parents on Long Island, I hadn’t realized how much she would struggle emotionally to be living back in her childhood home. Sleeping in her childhood bed under her parents’ roof wasn’t a big deal to me, but she viewed returning to that home as a failure rather than the rational solution we had decided it was.

“It’s only for a couple of months,” I reassured her as we lay in bed that first May evening.

After all, it was just temporary — one or two months, three tops — and it wasn’t a decision that, like many 30-somethings, we’d been forced to make.

Rather, we had decided to buy a house just as her parents, Jim and Susan, had decided to sell theirs and retire to Florida. It needed some work and we needed to save more for a down payment, so the four of us struck a deal. Michelle and I could live with them rent-free in exchange for using our home improvement skills to get their house into shape before they put it on the market. It seemed like a practical, fool-proof plan.

Other than Michelle’s concerns, living with Jim and Susan wasn’t particularly burdensome at first. They made us breakfast, packed our lunches and had dinner waiting for us when we returned home from work. I felt like a teenager again — which, being as they hadn’t been my parents when I was a teenager, I surprisingly enjoyed.

I soon found, though, that I couldn’t feel completely at ease in someone else’s home the way I was in my own. Unlike when living with only Michelle, I couldn’t walk around in my underwear, stand contemplatively in front of the open refrigerator, or even just openly tell her whatever I was thinking.

There were other decided trade-offs: Her parents lived far out on Long Island, which meant that we had to commute nearly two hours each day for our jobs in Manhattan, at a collective cost of nearly $1,000 per month. Worse, we were too far from the train station to walk, so we were dependent on Susan to drive us there and pick us up each day.

And when we did get home, all either of us wanted to do was eat a quick dinner and go to sleep — but Susan and Jim had different plans most evenings. Maybe because they were happy to have a full house once again, we’d often arrive home to the two of them preparing dinner and mixing us cocktails while blasting hits from the ‘50s through the ‘70s to sing along to. They loved our company — sometimes even a little too much.

And yet, some of my favorite evenings were spent relaxing on the sofa, sipping one of Jim’s signature martinis, and singing along to the best of Tina Turner with Susan.

But those sorts of nights — and many others — left Michelle and I with no time for intimacy; we couldn’t even watch TV alone together. Aspects of our romantic relationship were being lost as our free time was eaten up socializing with Jim and Susan. And the strange thing was that I really loved hanging out with them, even though they were becoming the center of our lives.

The longer I lived in their home with their daughter, the more I felt like their son… and the more my fiancée almost started to feel like my sister. Michelle and I even began to argue like siblings; I officially felt like a member of the family.

Every morning, I was jolted awake by a cacophony of kitchen clamoring and minor bickering. Jim and Susan frequently bickered — as do most long-term married couples — over the simplest provocations, even about how to make the coffee.

Eyes half-closed, brain barely functioning, I’d stagger downstairs to the kitchen to retrieve the coffee they were making for us as their casual quarreling continued and, while grateful for a fresh cup, I was inevitably irked that my morning peace and quiet no longer existed.

Michelle, being their daughter, only added fuel to the fire; the three of them often sparred like seasoned pros, using muscle memory to trade blows. Sometimes I felt like I was on the set of a sitcom.

As spring transitioned into summer, quarters became too close for comfort. I became crankier month by month, because sharing a home with three adults meant no time to myself — to feel like myself. I became irritable at every word, every mannerism.

Plus, searching for a house of our own was more daunting than Michelle and I had imagined. As we scoured neighborhoods, nearly every home seemed out of our price range. Thankfully, Jim and Susan didn’t give us a deadline to move out; we were, after all, renovating their bathroom and kitchen.

Throughout the summer, I’d whine like a child to Michelle, “I just want some alone time!” Equally frustrated, she had no solution for me — only patience, and that was running thin. We were two children living under someone else’s roof, riddled with adult responsibilities, waiting like teenagers for our chance to move out and have lives of our own.

By late August, as we were putting the finishing touches on Jim and Susan’s kitchen floor, Michelle and I finally found a home we could afford. But that was hardly the end: Closing negotiations and the mortgage process in the New York area are notoriously hellish, and ours dragged on through the autumn.

Jim and Susan also put their house on the market — but selling a house is no easier than buying one. Both experiences proved emotionally taxing and, during those months, we grew closer as a family. After long hours with our real estate lawyer or mortgage officer, I began to once again cherish those relaxing evenings of homemade martinis and Tina Turner with Jim and Susan.

Michelle and I finally closed on our house the first week in December — nearly seven months after moving in with her parents “for a month or two” — the same day that Jim and Susan signed a contract to sell their home. I was excited (and more than a little relieved) to begin the next chapter of my life with Michelle, but I was pretty sure I’d miss Jim and Susan’s daily presence in our lives.

Recently, however, Michelle told me that her parents might need to stay with us for a month or two as they make their transition from New York to Florida. “No problem,” I said smiling (but with a bit of apprehension). “They’re always welcome.”