Slamming doors is common where I live. So is showering at 1 a.m. and leaving fast-food containers and empty beer bottles all over the living room. The reason I let it slide is simple: this isn't actually my house.
One year ago, my family of four (my husband and me along with our two boys, then 2 years old and 4 months old) moved in with my parents at my childhood home. Three of my five siblings also lived at home: my 20-year-old sister, 17-year-old sister, and 16-year-old brother. My parents graciously let us stay here rent-free in exchange for cooking dinner and helping out around the house so we could pay off our debt while saving up to buy a house — a very nice gesture we're forever grateful for.
The toughest part at first was figuring out where everyone was going to sleep. My kids had a hard time adjusting to sharing a room, especially with a newborn who was still waking up throughout the night. Then, we had to fit our king-size bed, two dressers, a desk, and a bookcase in a guest bedroom, which was a test in patience. My sisters weren't thrilled with sharing a room, either, and my brother had to make the downstairs office into his bedroom, which was a little challenging.
Once everyone got settled in, the first seven months went by fairly smoothly — everyone was busy with school, work, social lives. But then it happened. COVID-19 came into our lives, and shelter in place started. Everything was shut down. Classes were cancelled, work went online, church and restaurants and nail salons and shopping centres and playgrounds and every other place that provided entertainment or comfort was closed. We were forced to hunker down at home — all nine of us.
I'll admit it: living with family is hard (though I bet you had an idea that was the case). But living with family when you also have a family of your own and nowhere to go, while the world seems to be falling apart all around you? That felt impossible.
I was grateful to be safe, and to have a job that allowed me to work from home, but also completely stressed, annoyed, and depressed.
When we first heard about the coronavirus in March, we tried to make the situation fun. We enjoyed the longer spring break and going to different grocery stores to try to find toilet paper. But in April, with new cases rising every day, Texas decided to shut down completely. I was grateful to be safe, and to have a job that allowed me to work from home, but also completely stressed, annoyed, and depressed.
Think of it like this: you are trying to be an authoritative parental figure with your two toddlers, while their young aunts and uncle are right there teaching them how to skate by the rules and feeding them candy when their parents aren't looking. Not to mention your own parents go between absolutely spoiling your children one day and punishing them — right in front of you — the next.
Other things got on our nerves, too, like having to constantly pick up messes from other people, disagreeing about politics, and adjusting to other people's sleep schedules (turns out, teenagers stay up much later than us). But it wasn't just the little annoyances and fights. It was also losing that blissful alone time that we took for granted before. The kids would go to bed, and we would have to decide as a whole family what movie to watch. I missed the days of binge-watching my favourite shows or convincing just my husband to watch the latest rom-com on Netflix. Also, I couldn't spend an hour in the bath at bedtime, because other people needed the bathroom. I couldn't read quietly in the living room while my husband slept, because other people were there playing video games. And romantic moments? Very hard to come by.
It has been an experience filled with frustration, plenty of outdoor walks, and some heartfelt talks with my family. But it's had some major upsides, too: thanks to the way COVID-19 has affected the housing market, we were able to score a great interest rate on our mortgage with a less-than-ideal credit score. And since we were having a house built, the lenders gave us free appliances, extra money for closing, and brand-new blinds — all because we signed on the house during this trying time.
Even before the COVID-19 shutdown happened, we were able to pay off so much more debt in the last year than we would have otherwise. Not to mention, who knew that not being able to go anywhere actually saves you some money? All the little things we normally do (eating lunch out, picking up extra things at the store, random trips to the zoo and movie theatre) add up. Now, we suddenly had extra money to start an emergency savings account and upgrade to the SUV we've been desperately needing. I'm not saying we completely changed — all those little expenses also bring tons of joy into our lives — but it did help us to get back on our feet and feel more financially prepared for the future.
The most devastating moment of the past year happened this past June, when my mum was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer on her 50th birthday. Suddenly, she had to navigate chemo treatments during COVID-19 and needed more help with basic things around the house. I've never felt luckier to be living here, able to help her out, support her, and love on her through it all.
Just a few weeks ago, we moved into our brand-new house, and I've had time to reflect on the last year. It's been one long lesson in patience, trust, forgiveness, and grace. We've had arguments about how to load the dishwasher, how to pick up after yourself, whether TV shows should have subtitles or not (definitely not, in my opinion), and how the hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. are not ideal for showering.
We didn't go into this thinking it would be easy (it definitely wasn't), but watching my kids bond with their aunts and uncle and grandparents was actually pretty amazing. Taking care of my mum was a blessing. Navigating a relationship with my husband during so many challenges made us stronger than ever. Living in my new home, which we never would have been able to afford without living with my family first, is even better than I could have imagined. I actually learned a lot in the past year, from how to better manage my money to how to deal with conflict. After all those sleepless nights, and going to the car to vent to my husband in private, we made it through. And I wouldn't change it for the world.