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House Rules

For more than 25 years, our family enjoyed holidays and spring breaks at my parents’ condo in Florida.  My father refused to retire so the condo was often empty and the extended family was free to use it.  But there were rules.  My mother had covered the floors in wall-to-wall pale blue carpeting and she wanted it kept pristine; a difficult task with toddlers and teenagers dragging tar in from the beach and dripping chlorine from the pool.   The kids knew the drill: no dirty feet or much of anything else messy in the apartment. Most of the time we succeeded but on one occasion ingrained in my memory a (nameless) child managed to spill a cherry Slurpee so it hit not only the rug but the white walls too. My husband and I  got most of it out after scrubbing with numerous chemicals.  Before leaving to go home, we  cleaned the apartment so spotlessly that on her next visit my mother never noticed the slight discoloration on the rug. I saw it though every time I opened the front door!

Now baby boomers are the parents with the condo, beach house, mountain cabin, pool club cabana or the suburban home that serves as the weekend getaway for the city kids.  Now we make the rules, formally or just by nagging: pick up the dirty towels, no food in the living room, put the suntan lotion on in the bathroom, don’t let the grandkids jump on the bed,  fold up the newspapers, and on and on.

Last week we asked  readers to share their experiences and we got a range of responses, from informal tips on travelling with adult children to a written document outlining the rules for four families sharing a beach house.

Sonia Jaffe Robbins told us of her experience of travelling to Bali with her adult daughter who had visited that exotic local previously.  She and her daughter had slightly different agendas.  Sonia writes:

At the hotel we had separate rooms, so we weren’t in each other’s hair constantly. And we consulted with each other each morning over what our plans were.

We only had one fight the whole trip, when we were at an event that was very crowded, and she wanted to continue to follow the crowd and I didn’t.

The whole trip was great for me because I trusted Christie to know what she was doing — since she’d been there before — and she let me organize what I wanted to see and do, but neither of us felt compelled to do what the other one wanted to do if we didn’t want to do it. The trick was to consult with each other all along the way.

Another mom, Denise, has been vacationing with her extended family at an Adirondack cottage colony for almost 30 years.  The place holds such wonderful memories that the adult kids still manage to make it up for at least a long weekend although their partying sometime extends beyond baby boomer bedtimes. Denise writes, referring to an incident where the “older” children accidentally set a fire on the stove:

“Upstate every year and as life gets more hectic, the time we can spend with our children is more of a treasure.  I had to laugh when I read your question.  The first thing that came to mind was that I hope they don’t burn the kitchen down this year.  Seriously we are lucky that there is so much room upstate everyone can have as much or as little “space” as they need.  The only rule I have is to keep the noise down after 11 so that we can sleep.”

Ruth who has a beach house that her three adult children descend upon with friends writes:

My rule is that kids have to strip beds and wash sheets for them and their friends so that beds are ready for the next guests.

Melinda Blau doesn’t worry about rules. “It’s all about creating special memories with them,” she notes.  Depending on the time of year, Ms. Blau lives in four different places–Miami, Manhattan, Northampton, and Paris, and loves to have her grandsons come visit.  She writes,

“Part of the challenge for me is for my grandsons to get to know me in each place. I love that we do different things in each place  So far, they know three.  I don’t think Paris will happen, because it’s too far away. Then again, if I continue to come here, who knows.  When I walk around Paris, I see kids and see all the things this city offers — as does every place that’s new to a child — and it spurs my fantasy of bringing each of them here, but one at a time.  Maybe as each turns13 or maybe younger!”

What happens when two adult children and their spouses and their kids decide to come from near and far and descend upon the grandparents’ beach house for the entire summer?  And, a third adult child and her husband and two small children rent a place nearby so they too can join the fun for meals and the pool?  In a smart move, the grandmother decided to put some  house rules in writing and send the document via email to all the adult children.  Amazingly everyone agreed,  proving that it makes sense to clearly state the rules instead of leaving everyone guessing what’s okay and what’s not. Herewith, an edited version:

Dear Family,

After conversations with all of you, I’d like to codify some understandings that will help us all have as relaxed an enjoyable summer as we possibly can. With all due respect, I have to say that the specter of multi-generational, multi-familial summer living in the previous generation — and stories from my friends who have engaged in similar experiments – loom very large. They are the model for what we really don’t want to do.

We have an opportunity to forge a way to make this not only livable but an experience we would welcome repeating. That would be my goal. This is best achieved with clear understandings.

To that end, and knowing, as well I do, all the chickens involved, including myself, I would like to lay out the following ground rules:


To quote a great sage, my late mother-in-law, there can only be one balabusta per household. That will be me.

Please endeavor to keep minimal basic order in your and your children’s rooms.

We will be kind and considerate of one another and empathetic to everyone in the household.

We will respect privacy.

We will try to keep our voices down.

Except for our large family gatherings once a week, no one is obliged to show up for anything.  It should be a pleasure or feel free to excuse yourselves.

We will confine food to the kitchen, outdoor porch and outdoor space or the dining room if we’re in the dining room. Children only eat in those spaces. No food in the attic or basement unless it’s supervised popcorn. If they join us for hors’ d’oeuvres in the family room, they will be supervised.

We will bar the children from the family room. Their space for TV is up or down.

We will do our best to stop them from climbing on the family room furniture. I realize this is a losing battle so best to encourage them out of that space.

After dinner needs to be quiet time – bath, reading, bed or quiet play upstairs.


Every day there will be breakfast and dinner, for some or all as needed. There will be ad hoc fixings for the latecomers, who will be expected to clean up after themselves or their children.

By necessity, we will have to have scheduled meal hours to avoid a restaurant short-order dynamic and too many seatings.

Breakfast during the week will be organized around children’s camp departure in the morning. People wandering down at other hours are free to do as they like, just clean up after yourselves.

I propose a big family lunch on Saturday after the beach (and, if no choice sometimes, on Sunday).  After that, I propose a family game of wiffle ball or kick ball – something everyone can play and something to feed the memory bank from our summer all together.

A personal peeve and a healthy living tip I would ask you to respect: Never, under any circumstances, leave a dish or a glass or silverware in the sink. Rinse them down and stick them in one or the other of the dishwashers.

We share food and we are relaxed about food and all kinds of provisions. We never, ever comment or complain if something we wanted to eat or use or planned for our children to eat is gone. Buy enough or make enough for everyone or eat something else or make another run. Or don’t care.

But we are relaxed, generous, and un-anxious about all food and other stuffs. We just share as if it really doesn’t matter because, thank goodness, it doesn’t.

We try our best to eat commonly and to be appreciative of what is offered and prepared. We would like to avoid a short-order house. For that, please go to the diner.


Never feel that you have to include everyone in your plans with others. You should feel free to go your own way (or be together) however it may please you. This will help everyone enjoy the summer more. There are no obligations or expectations except that you be relaxed and happy to be among us all.

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