Many families are drawn to the premise of helping their parents age at home by inviting them to move in or moving in with them, but have you considered the fact that your aging parent might not actually want to live with you?
Less than a third of seniors surveyed for a Gallup & Robinson research project on aging and quality of life said they would live with a younger family member when they could no longer live on their own. On the other hand, more than half of adult children expressed willingness to have an older parent move in with them when they could no longer live on their own.
While it’s certainly important for you to consider the pros and cons of living with your aging parent, it’s also absolutely imperative that your aging loved one considers the implications and has a chance to voice their questions and concerns as well.
Here are some questions to ask your parents to consider before you move in together.
Will the Move Take Me Away from People or Activities I Love?
If your loved one is moving a long distance to live with you, then they’re likely leaving their social network and friends. Having strong social connections is critical for all humans, but especially seniors.
Research shows that being socially integrated and having access to social support are related to better physical health, including reduced risks for infectious illness, cardiovascular disease, overall cognitive and physical decline, and both cancer-specific and overall mortality.
Unfortunately, many family caregivers drastically underestimate how hard it is and how long it takes for someone to adjust to a new environment in a new town. If you and your spouse are at work and the kids are at school, that could mean a lot of alone time for your elderly parent.
Does your loved one drive, or will they rely on you or other family members to provide transportation? Is there a senior center nearby? How are you going to either integrate them into your life or help them create a new life for themselves?
Does My Child Do Things That Bother or Upset Me?
If you and your parent have never really gotten along, don’t expect the relationship to change magically now.
Does your loved one offer destructive criticism, even when you’re just trying to help? Are they always pointing out your faults or trying to tear you down? Is your parent constantly telling you what to do? Do they make you feel as though you never get it right and can never do enough to satisfy their needs?
There are many reasons why our aging parents might be negative. If you’re currently grinding your teeth after an hour and feel like running out the door each time your dad visits, then having him move in may not be a good idea. Similarly, if you have never really gotten along with your mother, it is highly unlikely that the relationship would change for the better after she moves in.
You may have the best intentions, but if you’re both going to be miserable, it’s probably wiser to pursue other options first.
Do I Like Being in the Company of the Family for Long Periods of Time?
Living in their own home allowed your parent to enjoy their independence and privacy to the fullest extent. Being surrounded by additional people in close quarters will make it difficult for them to achieve the same level of independence and privacy.
Ensuring that your parent has adequate space can mitigate this problem. Do they have an area where they can enjoy alone time? Is your household’s schedule predictable? In a house that has people constantly coming and going, it can be difficult for your loved one to do the things they enjoy.
This new dynamic in your relationship could bring unexpected difficulties. Boundaries should be openly discussed so that animosity doesn’t build between you and your parent.
Should I Contribute Part of My Income or Savings to Living Expenses?
One of the reasons multigenerational living is making a comeback is because it can be cheaper for two families to live in one house than for each to have a separate home. If your parent moves in with you, there might be a profit from selling their house. This can be especially useful for seniors who cannot afford to keep their own place. Instead, aging parents can use that money to contribute to paying for your home’s utility bills and other living expenses.
However, there are many financial disadvantages to living together, too. For example, if your parent sells their house, they could lose their homeowner’s deduction on their taxes. Additionally, if you need to reduce the number of hours you’re working to provide necessary care to your loved one, it can lead to a loss of income. Another person in the house also means increased expenses for food and utilities.
It might also mean making home modifications, paying for medications and medical supplies, covering gas for trips to the doctor, or hiring home care. If the home needs remodeling to accommodate your parent — a new bathroom, for instance — are they able to help pay for it?
There’s no single right or wrong way to handle finances. Your family needs to decide what will work best for everyone. Money is an emotionally charged subject in most families, so this won't necessarily be easy. Figure out what expenses are involved in this decision, who will be paying for what, and how much it will cost each party. Include siblings in the money talks.
If I Don’t Like Something My Child Does, Am I Comfortable Discussing It?
When an older parent moves in with you, it creates a sea change in your relationship. You’re now the primary caretaker and decision-maker, not your older relative.
Will your parent respect your values with regard to your children and how you live your life? If they smoke or drink, is that going to be a problem in your home? Will they respect the levels of cleanliness and orderliness you’re comfortable within your home? How well do you two communicate with each other?
It's an opportunity for your entire family to reassess current rules, decide which ones work, and make new ones where necessary. If everyone is willing to adapt and compromise, you can create household rules that work for the entire family and give your older relative a chance to adjust gracefully to their new role.
How Do I Feel About Being Dependent?
Although your parents are getting older and they might need a little more help than they once did, they are still adults. It can be challenging going from being the head of the household to taking on a secondary role in the home and feeling as if they’re being parented by their children.
Some older adults adjust to their new role easily, others fight it or are depressed or angered by it. In the case of your parent, will they accept your assistance? Are you both ready to take this as an opportunity to set some new boundaries and forge a new relationship?
Making the Decision to Move a Parent In
Each elder and family dynamic is different, so it’s challenging to predict what setting an aging loved one would prefer and whether everyone could cohabitate well.
As you can see, the question of whether you should live with an aging parent isn’t as straightforward as you might think. For a deeper dive into important factors to consider before cohabiting with your older parent, download our eBook.