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Ask Chuck: Help with a family moocher

lazy adult
Unsplash/Adrian Swancar

Dear Chuck,

Our 28-year-old niece moved in with our family several years ago. At the time, we thought it would be a temporary solution to help her get on her feet. She works full-time. We assumed she would help pay bills and do some chores. She does not. We have tried to serve her well but feel it may be time for her to go. How do we ask her to leave or get her to take some responsibility?

Frustrated Aunt

Dear Frustrated Aunt,

You are not alone. Many families are now receiving adult children, nieces, nephews, and in-laws back into their homes. A new study by Pew Research Center reports a significant shift in American households. From 1971 to 2021, the number of people living in multigenerational homes quadrupled, and that number is expected to continue rising.

Stressful yet rewarding

Financial needs and caretaking are the primary reasons, but it appears greater among certain cultures and immigrant families.

“About a quarter of adults in multigenerational homes say it is stressful all or most of the time, and more than twice that share say (sic) it is mostly or always rewarding.”

 Pew reports, 

“Living in a multigenerational household appears to confer a financial benefit by buffering residents against poverty, according to census data. Americans living in multigenerational households are less likely to be poor than those living in other types of households. This is especially true of some groups that are economically vulnerable, such as unemployed people.”

Inflation is negatively impacting many families. Add in the experience with Covid and the Ukraine situation, and it is easy to see why more and more families are struggling with stress. There can be benefits to housing a family member in one’s home, but the cost, loss of privacy, and space can be challenging. Let’s look at your options.

Resolving your dilemma

Although your mistake was making the assumption that your niece would take some responsibility, God can work this together for good. Before you tell her she must go, consider extending grace and an opportunity to make things right. Clear, loving, written communication is essential going forward. The sooner you talk, the better. This will prevent the build-up of resentment or bitterness.

First, meet with your spouse. Voice your concerns, listen well, and honor one another. Seek unity with a defined course of action, knowing this decision will also impact your children if they are still at home or may one day want to move back in. As the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:12–14:

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."

Next, set a day to talk with your “guest.” Pray, fast, and be prepared to present her with a choice: either begin taking financial responsibility or self-select to relocate. Giving her an either/or choice shifts the tone of your interactions so your guest does not feel surprised, rejected, or attacked. Ask for her help in resolving the dilemma you face.

Have a written financial plan that shows what is expected for rent and bills, as well as some chores that need to be accomplished. Be sure to include a timeline for when this new agreement needs to begin: immediately, 30 days, 60 days? Outline when the bills are due and the consequences for being late. Holding a deposit of one month of expenses may be helpful to let her know this is no different than renting from a third party. If you like having her with you, and she is willing to be responsible, could you remodel, build a guest house, or move to a home with an attached apartment to make it more functional for all?

If she has no interest in the financial contract, present well-researched, alternative housing options and moving costs. This will allow her to compare your offer to the next best alternatives. Then present your solution to the current living situation by asking her to make the choice of either signing an agreement to help with expenses and chores or setting a departure date. Give her a day or two to think about it, and pray with her. Have a written agreement ready for signatures. Remember, this is a way to help her be prepared for real life.

If she elects not to take any financial responsibility, a target date for departure in 2–3 months may be necessary, depending on the situation. You also may want to help her with some expenses incurred with the move.

Ask the Lord to give you words to communicate in a spirit of love and peace. Aim to make it positive by affirming any growth you have seen during her stay with you. Thanks for the question. Let us know how it goes.

If credit card debt is a financial burden for your niece, consider directing her to Christian Credit Counselors. They are a trusted source of help and can guide your niece towards financial freedom.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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