I recently received an email from a new reader asking about what rules one might put in place when extended family comes to stay, either because they were ill prepared, or are forced to leave their home for some reason.
Andrea said “…much would depend on what type of emergency situation we were facing, but that having some guidelines on things such as how much water, food was to be used per person, what the thermostat should be set to, shared tasks would be helpful.”
Having made two six month cruises on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, I know a thing or two about living in close proximity to others for long periods of time. The US Navy came up with some of the policies on how we would all get along. We developed others out of necessity along the way.
I think this is a great idea. If you have a wide list of potential guidelines, you can pick and choose the ones that might fit your life and the situation you’re facing.
The scenario I had in mind while writing this was one other family staying at my house with no supplies of their own for more than just a few days. If the visiting party brought their own supplies, you’ll just need to focus on the areas where they are dependent upon you. With that being said, here are some general areas and some guidelines.
Sharing space over an extended period of time with anyone can be stressful. When you add extra people there need to be some boundaries established that respect private space as well as shared, public space.
If you want certain rooms to be private, bedrooms for example, establish a clear boundary that no one is allowed in anyone’s bedroom. Making bedrooms off limits can also help give you a private place away from everyone else. One of the hardest things about being on a ship with 6,000 other people is that alone time is very hard to come by.
Request that everyone please help keep the common areas that are shared by everyone clean. If you make a mess, clean it up.
We raised the boys with the understanding that each of us had to contribute to get the chores done. I think this is the only way to go in a small group scenario, where people are sharing an address for an extended time.
This area will vary largely, based on the type of scenario, the location where you live and the makeup of your group. Instead of coming up with a chore list, here are some things to keep in mind.
There is a good chance those staying with you will want to help earn their keep. Be willing to share the duty with chores they are capable of doing.
Kids will either be very eager to help, or very eager to avoid helping. I do not recommend letting anyone off. Favoritism can quickly lead to resentment. To avoid it, give small chores that can quickly be done by all kids. If those who are eager to help want more after, they might be allowed a special reward for doing extra.
People differ on how to raise kids, but having multiple sets of rules for different kids is just asking for Billy to be angry because he has to go to bed at 8:00 PM and his cousin Robby who’s the same age can stay up until 10:00 PM.
Not all rules need to be the same, but on things that might show favoritism it might be a good idea.
Depending on the scenario, you may or may not have power or heat. If utilities are working, my feeling is that whomever pays the bills sets the thermostat, keeping everyone’s safety in mind of course.
It will need to be understood that shower times need to be limited to a short duration, so that everyone can shower.
If the power is out and you have a generator, you’ll need to agree on what gets powered. If you can keep the fridge and the freezer cold by running the generator a few times a day, setting a rule about who is allowed to go in them might be a good idea.
When I was in the Navy there was only one or two television channels available while at sea. Believe it or not, that was probably a good thing. Trying to get a group to agree on which show to watch is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. If you have a working TV, and/or DVD player, putting all options in a hat and drawing one might be the best way to go.
Food and Water
This is another area that will depend greatly on the kind of scenario you’re faced with. If the event is short in duration or is longer duration and you can still get to the store and purchase goods, it is much different than a long term duration where the support infrastructure has collapsed. If you have a well, this is a much different conversation than someone on municipal water and sewer.
If water is in short supply, you may have to ration it. You will have to stop taking showers to conserve water. The rule of thumb is that a person needs one gallon of drinking water a day, more in warm climates or if highly active.
When it comes to rationing food, there is a big difference between making due for a few days until a trip to the store can be made, versus a life changing event that caused you to make due until harvest time.
If you are forced to ration food, keep health conditions in mind, how many calories are burned doing physical activity and the needs of children.
With many people sharing the same space, tension could be high without facing an emergency situation. Add the extra pressure and you’ve got the potential for everyone being on everyone else’s nerves. Finding a fair way to deal with disagreements is something to think about ahead of time, before everyone is torqued off.
If I were in a situation that saw Trudee and I playing host to more people for an extended time, I would need to make sure we had wine, lots and lots of wine. Just kidding.
I would be tempted to go with “My house, my rules”. Depending on the disagreement, that might not be the best route. I try to be objective and understand both sides of an argument, but I don’t always succeed and, like everyone, I make mistakes. For that reason, every adult should have some say in daily life, and compromise should be well-used.
I think that every group needs a leader, someone who breaks ties and when compromise fails, has the final say. There are also some things that I am just not willing to tolerate in my house. When it comes to the safety, well being and righteousness of my family, my foot is down. Don’t ask again.
I am sure I missed some rules or guidelines. If you think of some, please post them in the comment section.
If you liked this article please think about sharing it on the social media listed below, thanks!