Is Cohabiting with an Aging Parent Right for Your Family?

Tips for having the talk with an aging parent about not living together

Steps to Take When Considering If Cohabiting with an Aging Parent Is Right for Your Family

Cohabitating with an aging parent is a big commitment and one that isn’t always the best answer for some families. But how do you approach this touchy subject without hurting a parent’s feelings or making them feel like less of a priority to you?

There are a number of reasons cohabitating with an aging parent might seem like a bad idea. For example, you may have your hands full with your own adult child. Or maybe an already-strained relationship with a parent makes you hesitant.

For a number of families, moving in with an aging parent works, but for others, it may not. If you don’t feel like you have the tools, time, or resources to provide care for a chronically ill or aging loved one at home, that’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad person — and it doesn’t mean that you are indifferent or abandoning your loved one, either.

The fact is moving in with an aging parent isn’t the best decision for everyone. It can have some hidden impacts on family dynamics, your own health, and even your finances: Your marriage might be tested if the lack of privacy and your loved one’s caregiving needs interfere with your time together. Caring for an elderly parent at home might require expensive modifications to make living conditions safer and more manageable. And depending on the kind of care your loved one needs, it might be challenging to adequately care for them at home.

No matter how valid the reasons are for not moving an aging parent in with you, it can be hard to explain these very reasons to your parent. You might be worried that saying no to your parent’s not-so-subtle hints that they want to move in with you will ruin your relationship. Or perhaps you feel like your parent had you, raised you, helped you, and now it’s your duty to care for them. Caregiver guilt can be a real struggle!

Here’s how to gently but firmly tell an aging parent that they can’t move in with you.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Some parents, yours included, might try to guilt you into letting them move in with you on the grounds that they raised you or paid for your education. This common defense mechanism is usually due to the fear of the unknown. Although they aren’t intentionally trying to make you feel guilty, the thought of anything other than being at home or being with you — their adult child — might be downright frightening. 

Even if you feel obligated, keep in mind that just because you were asked doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Consider making a list of current responsibilities you have on your plate. Then consider the responsibilities you will have if your loved one moves in with you. When you compare future and current responsibilities, does it seem manageable? Or does it seem like a big undertaking? If your gut reaction is concern that you will be stretched thin, your gut is probably right. Use this list to find ways to address your concerns with your aging parent.

Be Honest

When setting boundaries, you might feel the urge to apologize or defend or to give long explanations for your feelings. Resist this urge. Boundaries are an important part of any healthy relationship, and the kindest, most successful approach is to be direct. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

For example, you might say something like, “I love you and want you to have the support you need, but I am afraid that I won’t be able to give you that support because … ”

Explaining to your parent that you already feel stretched thin caring for your own child(ren) or that you are afraid living together will create tension in your relationship isn’t easy, but honesty truly is the best policy.

Propose Other Arrangements

Let go of the guilt, acknowledge that you're doing your best, and brainstorm other options together. These might consist of an in-home caretaker, utilizing an adult day center, or considering a move to a senior living community.

If your loved one needs assistance with grocery shopping, food prep, and housekeeping, home care may be a good option. Just make sure you compare the costs to assisted living. Many assume care at home is going to be much cheaper than living in a senior living community, but that depends on the number of hours a week support is needed, and the cost can quickly add up.

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