Moving Back Home to Care For Aging Parents
You lived there for your first 18 years, give or take, and it wasn't that bad. Now you're thinking about moving back home again to live with and take care of your aging parents.
It sounds like a good solution on so many levels: Your parents will get the help they need to stay at home; you will all be able to share expenses and reduce living costs; your children will be closer to their grandparents; you won't have to worry about the older folks so much.
For some it's a good solution. "When John lost his job," says Ellen Johannssen, "I was pregnant. My folks still live in the house I grew up in. We moved back so we could catch up financially and give my parents a hand with the house and yard."
It's worked out well, Ellen says, because although her father has heart problems her parents are still relatively independent, and the house is large enough that everyone can have some privacy.
"I don't think it would have worked out so well if we didn't have our own family space upstairs," Ellen added. "Everyone needs to get away, no matter how much they love each other."
It's been harder for Moira Brooker, who lives with her elderly mother:
"I'm the youngest of three and the only one who's not married. When Mother started needing help we all decided that it would make sense for me to move back home to help her out. Back then she could be alone all day while I went to work. After a while she needed more help and I quit my job to stay home and take care of her. I haven't worked in almost eight years, and I'm lucky if I can get out by myself for a few hours on the weekend. She won't hear of paying anyone, and I have no income. I made a bad mistake and now I don't see any way out. She doesn't own this house, so if she goes to a nursing home I have nowhere to go. I'm 56 years old and the future terrifies me."
Moving Back Home to Care For a Senior Takes Thoughtful Planning
Impulsively deciding to move back home to take care of Mom or Dad is just as risky as impulsively moving a parent into your home. To be successful, both kinds of move take thoughtful planning and a thorough assessment of everyone's personalities and needs.
Consider the following if you're thinking about moving back home with your elderly parent:
When you go home for a visit, how do you feel? Do you revert to feeling like the awkward teenager you used to be, or do you feel like a respected adult peer of your parents? Although you'll always be your parent's child, if your parent can't or won't treat you as an adult, and if you can't relate to your parent as respected but equal, your position in the house will be compromised from the beginning.
Do you all have a history of getting along well together? How have disagreements and disputes been handled in the past? How well do you communicate? There is no such thing as a family who don't disagree from time to time. If your father was a yeller in the past, he'll still be a yeller. If your mother was the passive-aggressive one, she will do it to you, too. Whatever patterns were established in the past are likely to become even more solidified with the passing of time.
How does everyone involved feel about this merging of families? That includes your parents, your spouse, your children, and of course you. Be honest. You may not be able to easily change your mind later.
How will you manage the financial side of living together? Who will pay for what? Work this out in detail before you move in to avoid misunderstandings and future bitterness on one side or the other.
Will you be happy as "second fiddle" when it comes to managing the house? This will be their home, not yours. Many seniors become more stuck in their ways with every passing year. If moving an ottoman to prevent a fall will involve major warfare, what do you predict will happen when serious decisions need to be made? Will you have an equal voice?
Will you be able to meet their needs as they grow older and need more care? If you work, have you discussed what the options will be if and when they need someone there during the day? Quitting your job to be on duty 24 hours a day won't be an option unless they will compensate you well for providing care.
Is there enough room for everyone to have some private space? If you're going to be sleeping on the love seat in the alcove this is not a long-term plan.
If you're moving back with childen, will your parents respect your authority as the parent? Will they undermine or second-guess decisions you make about your children, or will they support your position?
What will you do with your own possessions that won't fit into their home? You will probably have some things you don't want to part with, and that you might need one day to start an independent life again.
Do you have, or will your parents give you, Powers of Attorney to manage their affairs if and when they aren't able? You will be making a great mistake if you move in to care for an aging adult if you do so without the legal ability to make important decisions in the future. Do not move in without having these documents completed before the move. A reluctant parent who says, "We'll take care of that after the move." is likely to never get around to it, no matter how much you push. Responsibility without authority should always be a deal-breaker.
If you have reviewed these questions and feel confident that moving back home will be a win-win for everyone, then start packing. If you have doubts, perhaps another solution would be preferable. As much as they may love each other, not every family can live together.
Choosing other arrangements does not mean that you are a failure. It simply means that, given who each of you is, other options will probably work better for your family.