10 Ways to Cope When an Aging Parent Moves In
Mental and emotional adjustments are as important as physical ones
(This article appeared previously on Caring.com.)
The decision to move your aging parent in to live with you is one you need to make with great care and planning. Some of the preparations will have to do with modifying your home to ensure your parent’s safety and well-being. For instance, you may need to remove area rugs and other tripping hazards, or remodel a part of the house to accommodate his or her inability to use stairs.
But adult children who find themselves once again living with their parents should also take care to prepare themselves mentally — and emotionally — for the changes and potential pitfalls this situation can bring. As you’re gearing up to welcome your parent to live in your home, experts suggest taking the following 10 steps to help ensure everyone co-exists happily:
1. Consider your budget
You may know that moving a parent in with you can help save money, but it’s important to consider your family’s budget and determine how the financial responsibilities will be distributed.
Some categories of expenses to consider include rent or mortgage, food, clothing, entertainment, personal hygiene costs and other day-to-day expenses such as transportation or pet care if your parent is also bringing his or her animal.
2. Set expectations right away
Every family member must understand what is expected and how each person fits into your parent’s caregiving big picture.
“On Day 1, adult children should set expectations about things such as private versus shared areas of the home, who is in charge of what household responsibilities and what the financial expectations are for the parent and the adult child,” suggests Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care.
3. Identify the level of care needed
Hogan says it’s important to identify your parent’s care needs to make sure the family is capable of providing that care.
“Think about daily routine activities like driving, preparing meals, housework, shopping, managing finances and medication management, as well as eating, dressing, bathing and restroom assistance.,” she suggests.
You should evaluate these needs not only when the older adult moves in, but on a regular basis to determine if changes to care are required and if you’re able to continue sharing your home with your parent.
4. Stick to the status quo
It’s important for adult children to maintain the same lifestyle — including social gatherings at your home or those you attend away from home — and routines you had before your parent moved in, says Laurel Steinberg, a relationship therapist and psychology professor at Columbia University.
“You need to have your own friends, an opportunity to date if applicable and fitness, physical activity and eating habits to prevent losing your identify in the process of caring for an elderly parent,” she stresses. “You had a life before your parent moved in and you will still have to live a full life if your parent moves out or passes away.”
In addition to helping you be the healthiest and most satisfied caregiver possible, sticking to your familiar routines sets a good example for your parent. Steinberg says that will help him or her feel more at ease with maintaining social relationships and staying engaged in the community.
“You set the tone for the entire home,” she explains.
5. Avoid parent-child patterns from youth
Just because you’re back living under the same roof as your parents, you don't have to share the details of your life the way you may have as a child. Steinberg cautions adult children to not seek approval for their actions and decisions. You now pay for the roof over your head and are responsible for the day-to-day routines.
She says it’s OK to ask a parent for help or for an opinion, but you shouldn’t fall into a pattern where a parent dictates how the household should operate or expect to be privy to every decision and detail related to the household. “Parents should only offer advice when adult children ask for it,” she says.
6. Don’t ask for permission
Remember that even though you’re a grown-up who may have grown kids of your own, to your parent, you’ll always be his or her little boy or girl. That nostalgia can fuel parental expectations that your relationship will revert to what it was decades earlier.
“Adult children often fall into the habit of asking for permission when parents live with them,” says Steinberg.
Gently assert your adult independence by setting boundaries on move-in day. You can politely tell your parent that you will not be reporting in every time you leave the house or take a phone call, says Steinberg. “The goal is to establish that you’re a self-sufficient adult who loves their parent, but has his or her own, independent life now,” she says.
7. Don’t be a hero
Just because you share an address doesn't mean you are the only one responsible for your parent’s care and needs. Don’t hesitate to call on siblings and other family members to share the responsibility of providing care.
“If extended family members will not help with caregiving responsibilities or respite care, arrange for a professional home care service to help,” says Steinberg.
8. Talk to professionals
Seek outside counseling to help with the transition. “Having a parent age to the point where you are now essentially the ‘parent’ can be very powerful and difficult to navigate and trigger a range of emotions,” says Sara Sedlik, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.
You may experience unexpected anger, sadness, dread or guilt in this situation, which can be overwhelming.
“There may also be relief or joy to have your parent close to you,” she adds. “Typically, there is a mix of emotions, which adds to the confusion.”
Without properly addressing the feelings or at least being aware of them, you may experience excess stress that can show up in other areas of your life, including personal or professional relationships, work performance or even physical health.
9. Set boundaries
Allow for private time and family time for every member of the household. “Create or designate an area of the home that allows for the parent to have his or her privacy,” suggests Hogan. Other family members can also designate spaces of their own to maintain privacy and autonomy.
When your parent moves in, set clear expectations that distinguish between private space and shared space within the home. “If space is limited, especially in areas of the home like the bathroom, consider a shared schedule,” says Hogan.
10. Nurture your relationship
Whether you’re married, dating or hoping to have a companion, it’s important that adult children whose parents move in devote energy and care into that primary relationship, says Sedlik.
“Your parent is likely to, unconsciously or consciously, demand your attention, and your current and primary relationship may suffer,” she cautions. “Keep communication open, be present and nurture your romantic relationship.” That will help you stay on track with your personal goals and work to reduce caregiver burnout and stress.