Boyfriend/Girlfriend Moving In

Archived Q&A and Reviews

July 2007

My son's girlfriend has moved in recently due to living circumstances outside her control. They are both nearly 18ys-my son graduated this year and she dropped out. I suspect she has a lot of issues due to a chaotic childhood though she is sweet. My issue is she talks a lot about getting her GED or going to the J.C. or getting a job but she isn't actually doing anything (my son is working). She stays up late on the computer and sleeps until 2 or 3pm. My husband and I want to lay down some rules but we don't know how to go about it- she is neither family nor guest and so we feel awkward laying down rules. Any advice? concerned mom

My son's 18-year-old girlfriend came to live with us too a few years ago. Kudos to you for thinking this out ahead of time - I really didn't handle it very well in restrospect. She had graduated high school, and she and my son, who was two years older, proceeded to have several false starts at community college together, also worked at a series of jobs that they kept losing for not showing up for work. It was frustrating to me to have TWO kids with low motivation. Since she was not my child, and was over 18, I didn't feel comfortable assigning chores or giving her advice or asking personal questions, so my son was the mediator. I think I saw her as more of a houseguest or a roommate. We had (and still have) a congenial, respectful relationship. But the fact is, she, like my son, is very immature and impulsive, and she was operating without any kind of guidance from a parent type figure. As it happened, she and my son broke up after a few months. She had nowhere else to stay, so she continued to live with us. It was awkward -- my son had been the one to convey messages from me to her, and back, and it was a while before I figured out they had broken up. I realized that I needed to be the designated adult because they were both too immature to really figure out what to do in this situation. I decided to treat her as I would my own child, and began talking to her about her options with work and school, trying to encourage her, etc. That was not perfect, but it was better than treating her as a houseguest. I don't think I had a beneficial effect. She eventually went to live with a family member, had some drama, found a new boyfriend to move in with, and was pregnant soon after, not yet 21. Sigh. It felt a little like I had failed her as a parent.

It is very complicated, to be parenting someone who is having a relationship with your own child. But I think if I had it to do over, I would have regarded her as a child rather than a boarder right from the start. Best of luck to you in figuring it out. Been there

Dear Mom, Help you redefine the girlfriend's role. You may not have invited her but your son did, he is in your family so she is definitely a guest. If they are sexual some states might call this a ''common law marriage'' so considering her family is not over the top either. Anyone living under your roof, paying or not paying needs to respect you, your home, your family and what it takes to live there regardless of their past or capacities.

Having reasonable structure will make everyone happier and healthier in the long run even if there is a transition period in the short run.

Make a list of what you would like to see changing and then rewrite it the next day and prioritize what is most important. 1, 2, 3, 4 Have a short family meeting when everyone is there - no longer than 30 minutes and find out what they need and get some commitments - make a wall chart. Don't stress if you don't have 100% some improvement is better than none. People may do the tasks and not update the chart, in my mind that is OK too, the chart is a tool not the final result.

If it is more about behaviors and keeping schedules that can be listed too.

You may need to reach and get to know this girl - or second woman of the house. That may be hard to swallow but there it is.

Rewards are a lot better than harsh words or fits. Compliments, thank yous, special weekend family breakfasts, or a homemade desserts are great. If you want more help with chores, you may need to widen your standards, or be willing to be a patient teacher. I have not found two people in my experience who do household tasks exactly the same. If her life was chaotic as you say this may be a very new experience for her, almost anything you say or do about it may be a source for embarrassment that you are not intending. So proceed with sensitivity but do proceed. Best wishes.