A lovely, college-aged young woman who has had a very rough year is coming to live with my parents, whom I visit several times a year, often for extended periods of time (I live 900 miles away, but I'm a student with long vacations). I think this is great. However, I feel a little at sea for how to interact with her, and to prepare for this change, especially given the giant elephant in the room: the horrible event that happened which has caused her to need a new home.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
To explain that elephant in the room: Let's call this young woman "Lucy." Lucy grew up in my hometown. Her parents were well known in the community; pillars, even. Just as she graduated high school, they moved to a different town. Not long after the move, on an occasion when Lucy was home, one of her parents killed the other parent, in Lucy's presence. Lucy has effectively lost both parents: one is dead, and she has no contact with the other, who is incarcerated. She has no other close relatives, and has been living with family friends.
Since that event, Lucy and my mother have become quite close, and all parties involved have agreed that it might be best for Lucy to transition to living with my parents instead of with the family friends she has lived with till now. This is undeniably good. I am pleased for her, and proud of my parents. (I'm proud of her, too; she is back to attending college as a commuting student, and is working when she has time. By all accounts, she is very resilient.)
So, with that preface, here is where I'm feeling a bit lost. I have several questions:
1) How should one interact with someone who has undergone this type of trauma, in general? I do not know Lucy well. (The last time I spent any amount of time with her was when she was about 8, and I was about to head off to college, and that interaction was minimal.) I neither want to pretend it never happened, nor pour salt on open wounds. She's going to be spending weekends with my parents starting next month, transitioning to full time later in the spring. There will be times during some of my visits when my parents will be away on work-related trips when Lucy and I will be the only ones living in the house for 3 or 4 days.
2) How should I prepare my space in my parents' home to become her space? If you were in such a situation, moving into someone else's room with someone else's (preteen) stuff, what would help make you feel at home? (And make you feel like the person who had lived there wanted you to be there, and not just like they were tolerating your presence?) Because of the practicalities of how the house is laid out, she will be living in my childhood bedroom, which is still full of childhood things, while I will be staying in the guest room when I visit (it just makes way more sense for my childhood bedroom to be the one someone is living in full time—for example, among other things, it has a closet, and an armchair to read in, while the guest room has no closet, and no place to sit down other than the bed).
In a few weeks (after the holidays), I will be going down for one of my extended visits, and one of my tasks will be to prepare the room for her. (This is nice: I'll get to be the one who decides what happens with my stuff.) I know I should clear out the bedside table and the chest of drawers (and this is all my mother expects me to do; she said it was up to me whether I did anything further), but what about the art on the walls? Or the books on the bookcase, and the art supplies on their shelves? What would you want if you were in her situation, moving into someone else's childhood bedroom that was becoming your room for the next year or so?
3) Finally, how do I deal with my own feelings of upendedness that this transition is causing? My parents have been confirmed empty nesters for over a decade now, but when I come home, my room has always been my room; it never turned into an office or a project room, as many childhood bedrooms often do. And when I go home, I have really treasured the time I spend just with my parents. Now, when I go home, someone else will be living in my room, and I won't be alone with my folks—there will be someone I don't know very well there, too. I think this transition is a good one, but I also feel weird. It's definitely the end of an era, and it's an end I didn't get much time to prepare for. The decision to make this change only happened this past weekend, and Lucy will start living with my parents part-time in just a few weeks. Have any of you experienced such a thing? How did you get used to the idea?
(Possibly relevant to the above questions: I am a woman in my late 20s.)
In sum: I want to be decent and generous to Lucy as she begins living with my parents. I also want to take care of my own feelings, too; what's the best way to do both?