He saw them at the far end of the corridor. Of course, their flight would use the most distant gate. Two slightly slumped figures, rolling carry on bags and dad with his cane, moved slowly toward him. Unable to pass security, he and his youngest daughter could only wait until they passed the barrier protecting the secure from the unwashed masses. Why didn't they ask for an electric cart, he asked himself.
His parents had left their farmhouse home of forty years and were destined for the spare bedroom in his house, their new home, after living independently proved to be too much for dad. How would his children, heavens, even the two cocker spaniels, adapt to having Gran and Grandad as permanent parts of their lives? There were going to be major changes and adjustments ahead.
This scenario is one faced by a growing number of us. With retirement communities financially out of reach for many, grown children become the answer for parents who need an increasing level of care. Certainly, such a situation comes with all sorts of adjustments, some good, good not so much. At a minimum, private space and control of one's schedule are affected. Depending on their condition, a serious commitment to caregiving is made.
Several years ago I used input from the book, When Your Parent Moves In, by David Horgan, as an excellent resource to write about this difficult process. His suggestions make just as much sense now, maybe even more so as our parents are requiring more of our time and concern.
As Mr. Horgan notes, having mom or dad (or both) move in with your family can be a mixed blessing. Unexpected problems can cause family arguments, financial stress, even increased divorce. The arrangement can also be enriching, a strong statement of love for parents from their grown children, and a lesson in responsibility for younger family members.
He suggests these considerations be a part of your preparation for blending a few different generations:
- Be open: Have a clear and open discussion with your family, siblings, spouse, kids, and ultimately your parent(s), to decide if making the move is the right decision for all parties involved. Discuss:
- The pros and cons
- The different ways this move will effect the family
- The ways each family member’s routines may be disrupted.
- Expectations that may differ from “the way things have always been”
- Any possible monetary issues that could arrive
- Compromises that each family member will have to make
- Medical Management: An elderly parent is apt to have a litany of doctor appointments, medication, and needs.
- With the help of medical and geriatric care professionals, assess your parent’s medical needs and gain a clear understanding of how those needs will affect you and your family.
- Gather all possible medical resources, containing both specific people and organizations, to minimize frustrations as well as possible mistakes.
- Use your support network to create and implement a plan as well as back-up plans.
- Moving Day: Moving is stressful under any circumstance. Moving in an aging parent entails a permanent lifestyle change and one that may be met with resistance, which can make it even more difficult. Plan for every detail upfront to minimize the potential strife.
- Ready yourself for possible volatile emotions and flaring tempers from all parties.
- Use your utmost compassion and support when you decide what stays and what goes.
- The move may not have been a parent’s first choice. Avoid sweeping decisions, such as throwing away Grandma’s 50 year-old collection of National Geographics, without discussing it with her first.
- Decide ahead of time on furniture placement.
- Make a disbursement plan for who gets items that cannot fit into your house. (Storage, give away, other siblings.)
- House Rules: Your parent is used to running the household with his/her own rules. Everyone must openly acknowledge that each family member must compromise to make the new living arrangement successful. It is important to create a plan that is respectful to all parties, so your parent doesn’t feel slighted and uncomfortable as the “newcomer” to your home. You also want to make sure that you and your spouse do not feel like outsiders. Decide on:
- Who waters the plants and feeds the cat etc.
- Who helps and who doesn’t help in the kitchen
- How you like laundry done
- Bathroom etiquette
- What you make for dinner and what time
- When are lights out, and television off
As Mr. Horgan points out, there will be changes in everyone's life that could last years. As the parent declines, nursing care will become more of an issue and a major expense that someone will have to shoulder. This is not an issue with easy answers. But, it is certainly a good idea to work out as many details as possible ahead of time. There will be enough stress as it is.
I'd be quite interested in your comments, especially if you have had to face this problem, either as the adult child or the parent who moves in. Your experiences and feedback will be quite valuable to us all. If you'd feel more comfortable sharing anonymously, that is perfectly fine.