Hey Laura, how can I survive being neighbors with family?

“B” writes:

Dear Laura,
I just moved into a wonderful house next door to my brother and his wife and new child. While I love living next door to them, I have a few concerns. I don’t want to be the nosey know-it-all sister who interferes with how they raise their child, but I have some helpful advice I would like to pass on. How does one go about giving advice without being pushy? Secondly, they love to stop in randomly, and while I do enjoy seeing them and my new nephew, they once even walked in on me sans clothing! What is the nice/proper way of getting them to call first even though we are just a few steps away?

Oh, the joys of living near family! While it can be awesome to have close support nearby, it can also drive you nuts if you don’t set up clear boundaries and expectations right away.

If I were you, I would set a precedent right now of clear and open communication. This may come as a shock to your brother, depending on the family culture you grew up in, but being up front and straight forward with him about your privacy needs is really important if you’re going to maintain an amiable relationship!

All you have to say is:

“Hey brother, that was really embarrassing when you walked in on me naked. Can you guys please do me the courtesy of calling before you come over? I love to have you visit, but I need to preserve my privacy!”

And then you practice what you preach - be super-duper careful about their privacy (even if they haven’t expressed any needs to you). Do to them what you want them to do for you: Call, knock, don’t look into their windows, etc.

Also? Lock your door!!! :)

As for your helpful parenting advice, that’s tricky. Since you’re not already a parent, it’s going to be hard for them to take you seriously - after all, you “don’t have any first-hand experience.” Now, that may or may not be true, but in their eyes, if you haven’t been where they are now, you don’t have the right to hand out advice.

That’s not to say you can’t get into a position where you can be a help and support to them in their parenting adventure. But you have to work at it slow and sneakily. That is to say, you have to develop a relationship of trust with them first.

Of course, you have a relationship with them right now, but not the kind that can speak into their lives at that level. You need to get down into the trenches with them and do a lot of listening and supporting. There is nothing more annoying than someone swooping in on their high horse and doling out advice (particularly parenting advice!). It just feels like judgment, not help.

Again, modeling the behavior you’d like to see is important here. When you are interacting with your nephew, “show, don’t tell” what you think would be helpful for them as parents. If you babysit him, tell them stories about him in ways that exhibits your positive disciplinary methods and his positive response. Or, if he’s still a wee one, buy yourself a sling to use with him so they can see how great it is to wear a baby.

You can also frame your advice in a way that you’re just sharing information that you’ve learned. I know you are a big child development nerd, so using that tactic might come really naturally to you. You’re excited about what you’re learning and you want to share: “Hey, guess what! Did you know that research shows that CIO is actually really unhealthy for little babies?! Wow, I had no idea either!”

Most importantly, always hope, but don’t expect to change them. You might have to live right next to them and watch them raise their kid “totally wrong” and love them anyway.

It will be a good character building experience for you! :)


Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, how can I survive being neighbors with family?

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