Move into my dad's basement suite?
May 11, 2011 12:16 PM   Subscribe

My parents are splitting up after 36 years. My dad will be buying a house of his own. If he gets a place with a basement suite and I move into it, what pitfalls should I be aware of? I'm 30.

After a long, unhappy marriage, the plug is finally being pulled on my parents' marriage. Neither is particularly emotionally healthy, and living apart will probably be difficult for both.

I had an idea: since my dad will be buying a house of his own (for just himself to live in), maybe he could find a place with a self-contained basement suite. I could move into the suite. He'd live upstairs. With this arrangement, I'd maintain my dignity and privacy by living in a self-contained suite, but be close enough to my father to be a support to him. I'm pretty sure he'll find living alone quite hard, especially since he has no meaningful friendships, and I'd like to be there for him as best as I can. This is one possible means of doing so.

I'm imagining popping upstairs to hang out with him a couple evenings a week and maybe on weekends. He and I currently have a very good relationship.

About me: I'm 30, male, and single, no girlfriend. I currently live with 2 roommates in a situation that I'm relatively comfortable with. I wouldn't expect this new arrangement to last more than a year or two. After that much time, I'd probably end up making a change -- either by buying a place of my own, moving to another city, or getting married.

As I consider this, what should I bear in mind? I'm particuarly thinking of any effects this arrangement might have on:
--my relationship with my father
--my own emotional health
--what people may assume about me (as i would basically be one of those guys who "lives in his parents' basement")
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total)
What does he do with the basement suite once you move out?
posted by madcaptenor at 12:17 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know where you live, but considering the economy in the US, I don't think living with one's parents after 25 is nearly as stigmatic as it used to be.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's kind of tasteless to get impose your standards upon your father's current house-hunt, considering that you'd only be living there a year or two. What's he supposed to do with a fully functional basement suite after you move out?
posted by hermitosis at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2011

Have you run this idea by him yet? What does he think? A conversation with him may lead to most of your answers or even bring up more questions you haven't thought to ask.

Maybe he is looking forward to living alone?

I moved in with my dad for a few months after my mom died; it was no big deal as far as stigma was concerned. FWIW, I didn't pay rent in exchange for me doing a ton of yard work at his house for him, which meant I got the short end of the deal, but I didn't care; maybe you could do something like this, too.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2011

I don't know if this is feasible in your location, but what about looking for a place with an "in-law" suite (i.e., above a garage separate from the house)? It would give you each a little more privacy while still being close, and also you could avoid living in a dark, damp basement.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:27 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I might worry, depending on what the family dynamics generally are like, that my mom would think I'm taking my dad's side in the divorce. Make sure you're still spending time with her and keeping that relationship strong. Also, don't let them put you in the middle. Don't carry messages between them or try to mediate.
posted by decathecting at 12:28 PM on May 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

In my experience, the best roommate/living situation is one that involves people with whom you don't have close emotional ties, so if things go sour you can part ways without knowing you will hear about it five, ten, fifteen years later at a group gathering. It's lovely to support your dad now, but you can't be there forever, and then what? A roommate is a good idea if he would like a sort of companionship and to keep costs down - but perhaps you are not the optimal person for that position. He'll need someone to complain to about the roommate.
posted by griselda at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2011

I'm 37, married, and have two children, and I have dreams about how great it would be to go back and live in my parents' basement. I wouldn't think less of you.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:37 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is there a possibility Dad may date, and everything that goes with that, in the future? How would you handle that?

Conversely, you dating. How is Dad going to handle that?

Have to respect each other as grown ups.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:39 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd maintain my dignity...

No, not really. I'm answering the "what will others think" part of your question, that is. For reference, I'm a 27-year-old professional woman, and I'd probably pity you but would have a hard time taking you seriously.
posted by halogen at 12:40 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if he has no meaningful friendships, do you think that you being downstairs might give him less incentive to find and develop friendships or do you think it will help?

I think there must be a way to support your father emotionally while not living under the same roof if you can avoid it.
posted by inturnaround at 12:41 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If, say, your dad becomes severely depressed following the divorce (or even just has some significant physical health problem that pops up while you live with him), are you emotionally prepared to be in the position of being the closest person to that situation and not having anywhere to go to get away for even a little while (here I would recommend a girlfriend just so you might have something else to take up some of your free energy that's healthy)? This is something I wish had crossed my mind about a year ago, because I absolutely would have chosen differently than to live with my parent.
posted by so_gracefully at 12:44 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

How are you going to feel about the new life he constructs for himself? What if you don't like his friends? What if he starts running around chasing after women like a teenager? Are you going to be able to keep your mouth shut & mind your own business as he engages with his new independence?

I don't really recommend setting yourself up for a front row seat for whatever transition period occurs as he reconstructs his life. It's not always pretty.

Also, he may not want to be fettered by family connections when he's done with this emancipation. After all, he did his time in raising you, maybe he wants a little alone-to-be-me time. Who knows. You can certainly broach the subject, but understand, his life is going to be fundamentally different now that he is no longer with your Mom. He might need/want a little space to settle into that new him, and you might need/want a little space to process these changes.
posted by Ys at 12:45 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about suggesting that he buy a full-on duplex instead? It would be alot easier to rent out after you were done living there. That said, he has to be okay with being a landlord, and be prepared to fix things for his renters, and potentially have babies/children living there if that's the only renter he can find.
posted by cabingirl at 12:47 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The worst case is that your dad finds this plan demeaning and condescending on your part, and that your mom sees it as you taking sides in the divorce, and massive awkwardness ensues.

The next-worst case is that your dad becomes dependent on you and you'll have trouble extricating yourself from the situation in a year's time.

The best possible scenario is that you are slightly more involved in your dad's life than you could be by just living nearby and visiting.

Live nearby and visit. Visit your mom, too.
posted by ook at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2011 [14 favorites]

I don't understand why you need to live in you dad's house to hang out with him. I hang out with people 3-5 nights a week and I live alone. I'm also 26 and wouldnt date you (let alone marry you) based on teh fact that you lives in your parent's basement (but you may think I'm a bitch for holding that sentiment and conversely not be interested in people like me anyhow).
posted by WeekendJen at 12:52 PM on May 11, 2011

I actually know several people who have done this exact thing. In one case, she got married, hubby moved in, they had a baby, and now its even better because papa is upstairs and a great babysitter. Personally, I think it's a good idea, as long as you make a concentrated effort to keep the boundries clear. Is it okay if you dad just pops down whenever? Without knocking? What about you popping up? If you eat meals together a few times, will he/you start to expect any meals eaten while you're both around will be together? Does this sound good, or horrifying?

As for what people say - who really cares? Will you be paying rent? Then it's your own place, regardless of who the landlord upstairs is. I think that point of view depends a lot on what the rental/housing market is in your location however. Here, where houses start at half a million minimun, it's not seen as odd at all, and might even make good financial sense. At half that price, I'm not so sure.

That all being said however, i think it bears repeating - what does you dad want? Does that differ than what he's telling you he wants?
posted by cgg at 12:56 PM on May 11, 2011

Who came up with this idea? Was it you, in the dark of night, while pondering your dad's situation? Or was it your dad? The very first thing you need to do is find out if this is something he would be interested in. If he is interested, then you and he must set basic boundaries and guidelines. Will he respect your privacy and you his? How? Does he expect you to pay rent? How much? Can you afford that amount? Who is responsible when one or the other of you gets sick? Can he get outside medical help knowing you are "just downstairs? How often do each of you expect to be dining together? Are either of you going to have to hang a sock on the doorknob when they have guests? You and he need to really explore the circumstances of close habitation before anyone goes looking at houses.

As to what others think, who cares? You are an adult making adult choices. If this is what you have chosen, then this is who you are. Some men and women will think you are a sad child dependent upon your parent. Others will see it as a charming way of showing you care about your parent's well-being. You should be living your life in accordance with your own opinion of yourself, not based upon what others might think.

As for your own emotional health, you know yourself better than we do. If you are having doubts about it, maybe your inner self is saying for you not to expose yourself to this situation.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2011

Professional female in my 20s here --- for me, the living-with-a-parent thing *itself* would not be the problem. But it would give me pause because it can be a sign that there are other things about you going on, things that I would not want to deal with. (You are afraid to be an adult, you would want me to be your mommy, etc.)

Now, if you told me that you moved in with your dad temporarily because he was having a hard time coping and living alone after a 36-year marriage, I would think that was really sweet and charming. I would also not judge you for moving in with him in order to save money -- (as long as that extra money wasn't going to new X-Boxes, etc.) I would also not judge you for moving in with him because you were unemployed -- (as long as moving in with him was not a way for you to slack off/procrastinate on becoming employed again).

The condition of your basement abode would be a factor too. If it's a dark, dank, cramped place where all you had was a hot plate and a beer fridge, and you were living in squalor and/or like a teenager, that would send my mind back to the unable/afraid-to-be-a-grownup possibility.

If it was a pleasant, well-kept, adult apartment, it wouldn't be a problem.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think that assuming it's actually a basement apartment that is wholly separate from the house, there isn't really any stigma. Especially if you are intending to pay rent. And I agree with Ashley801, whether it's an "adult apartment" so to speak would make a big difference. Also, whether Dad felt like he could drop by anytime or god forbid just let himself in anytime would make a big difference to me.
posted by whoaali at 1:31 PM on May 11, 2011

I think you should give your father a clean slate going forward, and let him choose a house that actually suits him rather than one that suits you. He can have you over if he needs support.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:32 PM on May 11, 2011

Have you mentioned this to him? What if he plans to install a bevy of beauties? What if he decides to open an after-hours club? I think you should let him make his own choices, and see what happens.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:41 PM on May 11, 2011

I think that you have a nice gesture, and intent. Run. It by him and it may work out.

To all the people bash basement dwellers or live ins, good for you for having some awesome job that pays a living wage... I am still looking for that elusive position, perhaps it would be better to not be so damn judgemental.
posted by handbanana at 1:47 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd check to make sure the place is up to snuff as Ashley801 suggests. You also need to weigh how this is going to affect your mother. You don't want to inadvertently take a side in the divorce, after all. I would consider alternatives to an actual basement though, perhaps a duplex or something with a separate suite that does not necessarily have direct access from the house. While you appreciate your close relationship now, as a single guy, access with no notice from dad could be awkward when you're trying to get to know someone special (in the biblical sense).

Also, you and your dad should have an honest discussion about your expectations as far as what's out of bounds. If you aren't already involved, I would not recommend any long conversations about the divorce or his relationship with your mother. You might also want to develop a protocol for handling each other's dating and friends.

Last, you might consider a lease agreement of some sort and rent (even if it's token rent), which will help explain your situation to others. "Living in your parent's basement" is not the same as leasing space to help out emotionally and financially.
posted by Hylas at 2:16 PM on May 11, 2011

perhaps it would be better to not be so damn judgemental.

The OP specifically wanted to know "what people may assume about me." He specifically asked to know the judgmental thoughts people might have. So it would not be good in this instance to sweep them under the rug.

On that topic OP, you haven't mentioned what your employment situation is like and whether that's a factor for you in all of this, but this is probably another of the things people might wonder:

good for you for having some awesome job that pays a living wage... I am still looking for that elusive position

I don't know that handbanana meant it like this, but there a lot of guys out there who refuse to work at all if the job isn't awesome enough and/or doesn't pay as much as they want, even if that's the only thing available. They would rather be unemployed than work a job they see as beneath them. The stepfather of one of my friends growing up was like this, and her mother ended up having to become a stripper on top of her regular job to support them all.

For those of us who have cleaned other people's toilets, worked in fast food, telemarketing, had asshole bosses in those places and worked long shifts on our feet for minimum wage OR LESS when we've had to make money and support ourselves, this is THE biggest turnoff possible. This is THE impression I would say you want to avoid, that you're moving in with your dad in order to not take on a job that isn't good enough. Again, I don't know your employment situation, so I don't know if that applies.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:18 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Its the sterotype of some loner loser guy not working and mooching off parents that is incorrect.
I have many friends with degrees who are working shit jobs living at home while they continue to work shit jobs, working towards advance degrees or looking for jobs in their field.
The economy while getting better is still shit and its hard enough as it is. Sorry if I came off as brash, but it pisses me off to no end with that stereotype while people are trying really hard to get ahead.
posted by handbanana at 2:25 PM on May 11, 2011

I agree with Ashley801.

I lived with my parents right out of college (realize the op is older, bare with me) and it wasn't bad at all. I mean I had my own setup with kitchen and functionally was the same as a small apartment. I had my own way in and out and since it was basically a first floor, since the house was on quite a hill, there were windows and everything to make it feel not like a basement.

With guy friends it was normal. I would invite them over, they'd comment on how sweet it was to be living in a nice place and not in an apartment or shared house, and they'd enjoy the full cable setup (with Showtime!) and premium beer I had on tap. I would not like to think I was the nerd stereotype who smokes weed in a half unfinished basement, plays World of Warcraft 24/7 and has some menial job. I was pretty normal and socialized quite a bit.

I would go so far as to say that I'd probably still be there today if it wasn't impossible to get laid. Living with your parents is about the same as walking around with a "Bikini Inspector" shirt. This is just how it is and we can debate whether it is right or wrong all we want, but it won't change things.

Here's why: You can't really "hide" bringing a date home and because of that there's all sorts of implications with meeting ones parents. Yeah you can go in and out without getting noticed, but then that's all sort of weirdness. If your roommate sees a girl leaving at 9:00 am when they're pulling in, they might ignore her or give a friendly wave. When your parent pulls in there's a ton of not-roommate implications. They could ignore her, but that would be weird as the first time you meet someone's parent is doing the walk of shame and they didn't even wave. If they made small talk, this too has weirdness about it. Your parents can be the coolest, hippest parents around. Your dad could be skateboarding through the house smoking a big joint, but it is still a dad, and meeting parents is still a big deal for a lot of people. They might seem like a friend first to you, but they will most certainly be a parent first to any woman you bring home with you.

In short, your parents are not the same as roommates, even if you have a good adult relationship with them.
posted by geoff. at 2:51 PM on May 11, 2011

Err so my point wasn't very clear, if you rationalize living with your dad, "I have a normal job, I'd be saving money, I'm not an infant who can't get along without my parents, I don't sit down next to the laundry room smoke weed and play video games all day without getting anything done," then you'll find, yeah there's nothing intrinsically wrong with living with your dad. It does not, de facto, make you some sort of hideous man-child who is in the depths of loserdom.

So don't try to rationalize it. It is nearly impossible to date living at home, as I quickly found out, and since you're not in a long-term relationship and still very much on the singles market, it is going to make things 100x harder than it really needs to be.

Side note: I had a very well off friend who actually lived in a carriage house on his parent's property, that was completely retrofit to be a mini-house ... he only had to visit the main house for laundry. When I saw him many years after college had ended, I was surprised he was living in a shitty apartment (both because he came from money and he chose to leave his nice pad), to my surprise, he had a hard time right out of college as it was just a cultural taboo to be "living with your parents." It is simply a turn off.
posted by geoff. at 3:04 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

geoff actually raised a really good point. No matter how nice your place is, how cool your dad is, the whole bringing someone home thing gets complicated. He's going to notice a different car in the driveway and there will undoubtedly be run ins with your dad far earlier in your relationship than either of you may be comfortable with. Meeting someone's parents carries certain implications that might be a little too serious early on in a relationship.

I went on a first date once to a rather ritzy event. It was a little weird when we bumped into his parent's, who were also guests at the events. The mother definitely gave me the once over and wanted to know all about me. They were nice people, but the fact I remember it to this day let's you know how weird I found it.
posted by whoaali at 3:09 PM on May 11, 2011

I come from a big Italian family. All the men lived at home until they got married. Oddly, the women moved out and had roommates and their own apartments. It was not considered odd. Especially if the basement apartment was a real apartment, with its own kitchen. It would be fine. People are assuming you would be living in a unfinished basement. My assumption it that you are referring to a two family house set up.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:10 PM on May 11, 2011

I knew a guy who did this. The biggest problem was the Dad got ill (diabetes, then later dementia), and was severely depressed, and the son became the defacto caretaker. After a year or two the son could hardly leave the house because of his caring duties. Everyone seemed to think it was easy for the son to take care of Dad because he was right there anyway. It fucked up a serious relationship that was budding for the son. The problem only solved itself (kinda) in the end when the father died.

Something that's unlikely, I guess, but it's always good to consider the worst-case scenarios.
posted by lollusc at 3:13 PM on May 11, 2011

Nobody has yet mentioned how very intense divorce is. I have the feeling that my dad spent hours walking, staring, crying, fuming. Does he want space?
posted by salvia at 4:54 PM on May 11, 2011

Also, you don't mention your mom. I found that interesting. I worried about my dad's lack of friends, too, but I decided there was something kinda... overprotective? sexist (against my dad)?... about how in this situation that was hard on them both, we were all "omg what's Dad going to do?" My mom had always been the food preparer and social planner, so of course she could feed herself and get her emotional needs met. Then he turned out to be quite fine. As did she. Anyway, I'm sure your family dynamic is unique. Just some thoughts that I had.
posted by salvia at 4:57 PM on May 11, 2011

What does he do with the basement suite once you move out?


Also have you actually talked with your old man about this? That would be a good start.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:58 PM on May 11, 2011

I had an idea: since my dad will be buying a house of his own (for just himself to live in), maybe he could find a place with a self-contained basement suite. I could move into the suite. He'd live upstairs. With this arrangement, I'd maintain my dignity and privacy by living in a self-contained suite, but be close enough to my father to be a support to him. I'm pretty sure he'll find living alone quite hard, especially since he has no meaningful friendships, and I'd like to be there for him as best as I can.

I'm not really understanding your motivation to share a house with your father in order to visit with him a couple of nights a week and perhaps weekends. Why would be buy a house with living quarters for you if you aren't in need of a place to live and are not looking to make a long-term commitment to the arrangement?

The more typical arrangement is for an aging parent who needs support to move into their child's home. It sounds to me kinda like you're approaching this somewhat still entrenched in the mindset of you being the kid and him being the grownup?
posted by desuetude at 6:27 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you are gainfully employed, why arn't you buying a house that he can move into? Or buying a house together?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:34 PM on May 13, 2011

Your dad could be skateboarding through the house smoking a big joint

posted by stinkycheese at 11:43 PM on June 27, 2011

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