Think Carefully About Long-Term Issues before Cohabitating with Your Elders

  • You're close with your parents and you see them needing help. You've watched their decline, but so far you've handled it and they've stayed in their home. You've hired out the yard work and much of the house work. But it's time now for something different. Dad's often confused and Mom's diabetes isn't being cared for properly. You are wondering, should they move in with you?


    Years back, having one or both parents move in with the family was relatively common. My grandmother moved in with our family when my brother and I were teens and our little sister was a toddler. My parents built a new home that could accommodate privacy for Grandma as well as a family with teenagers and a toddler. It worked.

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    But - and this is a big change for today's world - Mom was a stay-at-home mom, as was rather traditional in those days. And, yes, my parents were able to build a home with enough room so that everyone had privacy. This was crucial to making the arrangement work.


    Today, we are more apt to live in families where both adults work or in single parent families with young children. In some cases, if the elders are in pretty good shape, they blend well as they can be home for the kids when Mom and Dad are out working. However, that seems to be rare. Generally, when people think of moving parents in with them, it's because the parents are declining. Often, this is the sandwich generation, where there are still children living in the home. Sometimes, it's later in life and the kids have moved out. That can make the arrangement easier, but still, many issues need to be considered.


    First, of course, is how was your relationship with your parents throughout the years? If you've always gotten on each other's nerves when you visited for more than a couple of hours, do you really think it will be a harmonious life if they move in with you now?


    Good intentions can lead us down the wrong path. Financially, it can look wise to share costs, however there is much more to consider. Emotionally, if you are still looking for something missing in your relationship with your parents, there may be something inside of you that is still saying, "This is my chance."


    But is it?


    People don't generally get more mellow with age. If Mom was snappy and opinionated throughout her whole life, she isn't likely to turn into a sweet little old lady now. Add to that the possibility of dementia, and living together could get dicey.


    If you've always gotten along, the arrangement could work. But first consider, is there enough room so everyone can have some privacy? Maybe you were all one big happy family when you went camping for a week, but this isn't camping and it isn't a week. This is real life and their care needs could last for months or years. That's a lot of togetherness.


    I'm not at all trying to say this arrangement can't work. It works beautifully for some folks. But I am suggesting that you consider all options, including what if it doesn't work out the way you all plan? What if the arrangement begins to strain your marriage or your relationship with your teenagers? What if? That is what you need to think through. Because once you move your parents in with you, if the arrangement doesn't work it could be very difficult to move them out and into assisted living or a nursing home.


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    Life is a gamble. You've been around long enough to figure that out. So, if you've thought through the issues carefully, discussed the arrangement with everyone involved, and it still looks like the right thing to do, then go for it. I wouldn't have changed a thing about having Grandma live with us.


    Whatever decision you come to, don't drag in caregiver guilt. If moving your folks in with you seems right, but eventually things change, well, you'll deal with it. If the idea of moving them in now doesn't seem right, then don't feel guilty. Help them find the right living arrangement, in-home help or whatever else needs to be done. You will still be still a caregiver - just not in the same home. All you have to go on is what you know now. Just proceed with caution.


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Published On: February 21, 2010