July 17, 2020

Parents & Adult Children Living Together

I consider this post a follow up on the one from a few weeks ago about moving into a CCRC. As some readers correctly noted, the costs of those specialized communities are quite high. An option? Living together. But, that comes with some of its own challenges. 

One of the consequences of the pandemic is an upsurge in the number of people who are struggling to pay their rent, mortgage, or other costs of living. While I could focus on almost any age group, this time around I'd like to look at what happens if parents must move in with an adult child.

Such an event comes with both benefits and risks. The arrangement can be enriching, a strong statement of love for parents from their grown children, and a lesson in responsibility. Of course, it also introduces new stresses and adjustments that could make such a blending difficult and uncomfortable.

Having an elderly parent move in with a grown child or family has far-reaching implications on every aspect of life, from financial impacts to changing family dynamics, from role reassignment to safety issues, from power struggles to eroding privacy. Whether you are the parent moving in, or the adult child hosting mom and dad, having plans and discussions ahead of time are very important.

Be Open:

Have a clear and open discussion with everyone involved: the family, siblings, spouse, kids, and 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 affect 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 (or your own) medical needs and gain a clear understanding of how those needs will affect you and the family.
  • Gather all possible medical resources, containing both specific people and organizations, to minimize frustrations as well as possible mistakes.
  • Use a support network to create and implement a plan as well as back-up ideas.

Moving Day:
  • Moving is stressful under any circumstance. 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 someone's first choice. Because of financial situations, it may be the only workable option. 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 those who get items that cannot fit into the house. (Storage, give away, other siblings.)

House Rules:

  • An adult 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 one side doesn’t feel slighted and uncomfortable as the “newcomer." You want to try to ensure that either the parent or adult child and family does not feel like an outsider. Decide on:
  • Chores
  • 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

The economic reality is that you, or your parents, may not be able to afford a retirement home, continuing care community, or even a well-run nursing center. There will be changes in everyone's life that could last years. As the parent declines, nursing care will become more of a concern. 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.


  1. Your moving day summary hits our moving mom into her CCC to a T. I also suggest that curtains and paintings be hung before the move in. We have a small storage room that is continually gone through- six years now).
    Interesting that this is shared as the "cannot afford" person's solution.Many people choose to live as a multigenerational family. My aunt came up with the solution that we are moving towards. We are taking years to hammer out the details. We will add on to their house with our money. The addition will include a small kitchen and a fully accessible bath/bedroom/living space - about 600sq feet. Laundry is shared. The other thing happening here are granny pods- but those are in the low upper class neighborhoods.
    We then will share in household bills, like a room mate. Our SS and RMD are steady income. It is our responsibility to hire a CNA if necessary. Money is set aside for those expenses.
    What happens if they divorce or want to move? Those are the biggest question marks. Like CCC - what happens if they go bankrupt? All good questions.
    We agree that dr appointments could be tricky, but that has been helped with the telemedicine and uber.
    My best friend moved into a two bedroom apartment with her mom for the pandemic. A bit tough since it was not thought completely out. They are surviving and designing a house that they will build and live in together after this is done. Two masters with common living space. They both have plenty of money. After this experience, with several of our friends losing parents and not being able to see them, they are more determined then ever. Maybe it is easier if everyone is a bit older and children are out of the house?

    1. My good friend and next door neighbor is part of an intentional multi-generational family.They purchased the home next door to me, which has two large master suites, with her daughter and son in law.The " baby " was only 2 years old at the time.Now,McKenna is 16 years old! She has grown up with her Grandma in the house, My friend has been retired and has a very active social life..we play cards, go to the library,to Barnes and Noble, shopping, to coffee.. (pre Covid) and the Mom and Dad both work..with all of them together there is always someone home, they share cooking.. and it just looks like the way of life that is a blessing not a chore...

    2. Janette: You make an important point. Deciding to live together does not have to be driven strictly by finances. Close families can choose this arrangement because it makes for a tighter bond, and is tremendous for teaching grandkids about responsibility and compromise. So many of us would like to spend as long as possible surrounded by family; a granny pod or house modifications can make that happen.

      Covid-19 has refocused our thoughts in this direction. What would be more heartbreaking than to have a loved one dying in a facility that doesn't allow any visitors.

      Madeline: Your example is a heartwarming story of the benefits that can come from such an arrangement. I would be willing to bet that when McKenna is an adult she will look for ways to keep the multigenerational experience alive. If that is how she has grown up, then that is her normal.

    3. I agree Janette. I could certainly afford other solutios, including stayiing in the apartmet I am moving to, and having a caregiver come to that place and hire help as needed and eventually move to nursing care. the point in y family is to afoid the nursing care, (even as good as it might be at a CCRC) uness absolutely necessary and to keep generations together. In my case, I'll control my own space and will have mmainly downsized and or giving things away. And I am not a controller or a houskeeper type. so many of those issues will not be in question (I expect to live not in a seperate apartment like above but simply in a seperate master suite with the common living spaces). I do expect that my funds will take care of CNAs, prescriptions and so o n. I agree that appointment and other travel could be interestig, but uber is your friend, and there are many public senior buses is most every area. While this is not the topic here, I'l interject and say that the last five years of multigenerational living I am in now has been by choice, not always by necessity. and it has worked very well. In this house, we simply treat everyone as an equal and there is no "the elders making the rules and the other person following them). We agreed to live together and as such, that's how it works. Iknow others do it differently but I dont undertand the need to maintain control over, if you will.

  2. Both Ken and I grew up with our Grandmas living in our home.It was the expectation that families took care of the elders, in both our families.Yes their were occasional tensions but also much benefit to all!! I would like to see a return to closer families. We all had to learn to be less selfish, to solve personality clashes, and to be respectful. When Ken's granma got older she needed more help due to childhood polio.We all took turns helping her bathe,dress,etc. so Ken's MOM could get breaks. My grandmother had many heart issues as she got older and needed a lot of doctor's appointments,etc. but by then I was living far away and a lot of it fell to my Mom.She just did it. There is a lot more community help, home health aids, etc. available these days. I hope we do see more of a return to extended families.Both Ken and I saw incredible benefits of families having multi generations around.. not just for Disneyland or summer visits, but in daily life.Kids also learn a lot about the age-ing process too. I think it is overall a great experience and well, may be necessary very soon.

    1. As I read these comments I am beginning to wonder if Betty and I, sequestered away in a place even as nice as Friendship Village, would be best for everyone. We have been such a regular part of our children's and grandchildren's lives. I am just wondering now about options.

  3. My mother had her mother (my grandmother of course) move in with her. My grandmother had never lived on her own and for decades had lived with her brothers and one of her brother's wives (so my great aunt and two great uncles) in the family home they inherited from my great grandparents. As that generation aged my great aunt developed dementia which put strain on all living in the house and my grandmother moved out to live with my mother.

    Both my mother and grandmother were retired for much of that time and though I viewed it from the outside I think it was a load on my mother but she never complained. I think my grandmother saw herself as still "the mother" and had strong ideas about how the house should be run even though it belonged to her daughter that she saw as "the child". My mother is an only child so there were no siblings to help or otherwise share the load.

    After several years my grandmother inherited her family home after her brothers passed and they moved in there together. Financially this was good for my mother as it meant she was now mortgage free. Back in the old family home I can only imagine my grandmother's feeling of being the one in charge increased. My grandmother lived to a ripe old age in good health until close to the very end and lived with my mother for probably 20 years. It wasn't easy for my mother and we hope not to put our children in the same position. If it does come to that we will try to remember that we are guests and no longer the parents.

    1. You highlight a very real area of conflict: who are the parents when two sets of parents are living together. A strong-willed person has to accept a different environment, not easy for many.

      For any of this to work, it is critical than one person does not carry the bulk of the load and responsibilities. That is unfair and can create resentment that makes the situation rather toxic.

  4. I have three friends who have moved in with family in the past few years. Two have worked out really well. With the third one the daughter has so many rules and dictates that she's choking the life out of her. The daughter goes off to work and leaves a job list for her mother of things she must do during the day which is not easy for someone who has lived alone for a number of decades and making her own decisions. It's like the daughter gained a servant who pays a big rent check. Total dictator of her mother's time.

    1. This story makes me weepy and then angry. My heart goes out to this Mom.

    2. Yes, that example is heartbreaking and borders on elder abuse. Shame on that daughter.

  5. We have no children. My parents are long dead-even though I'm just 59. No way can we co-habitate with hubster's parents (in their 80s). In 2003, we tore down walls between 2 bedrooms and a long hallway to create a quilting studio for me as we added on a woodshop for hubster. If the need arises that we require care, the studio will become a large bedroom suite for a paid live-in caregiver.

    1. Aging in place for those with no family able to help, or relationships that don't lend themselves to cohabitating, is an obvious option. With your situation and the changes to your home that I understand why you'd like to stay. A daily or live-in nurse is a way to take care of duties when they become too much for one person to handle.

      One question: do you intend to eventually move into a nursing center when more direct medical care is required? If so, can you guarantee acceptance in one that is high quality?

      This point is one that always causes Betty and me to think that a CCRC is the best way to avoid a bad situation at the end. But, I may be going for the easy, though very expensive, option, when other choices are possible. I know my son-in-law's father has said he wants to die in his own home. While i understand that choice, is it practical?

    2. I don't intend to move into a medical facility. Is it practical? The unanswerable question. Can I guarantee getting into a quality facility should I need one? No-guarantees don't exist IMO.

      Our country is far behind in elder care. My grandparents in Amsterdam moved into a progressive facility beginning in an independent apartment. Then there were 2 levels of care-assist. My grandfather died while still in the apartment. My grandmother progressed to the highest level of care as her dementia grew rapidly the last 3 years without her husband of 72 years. Democratic Socialism served them well.

    3. When there is a social safety net such as Elle's grandparents experienced he entire society is safer and happier.. from books and articles I have read. Sounds like common sense,doesn't it?

  6. After my paternal grandmother was widowed in her 80's, she didn't want to live alone, but didn't want to "be a burden" to any of her children. So they worked out an arrangement whereby she lived for a few months with each of them (or four of them, anyway) and rotated between homes. It was not a bad arrangement, although the accommodations really varied. She seemed fairly content with the situation, though, and got to spend time with each of her children. I was married by then, but I remember my little brother loving having her there, because she felt she should leave money for the person whose room she was using. He made out well. LOL.

    My own mother is in her late 80's, still doing well on all levels, and it appears she may be widowed again in the not-so-distant future. She is not interested in living with any of her kids, but we'll see how this plays out. She is a retired nurse, and also has no interest in a care facility having worked in them. One brother has a huge home with a suite she could occupy, but she seems disinclined to move in with any of us as she really values her independence. I can see it will become a discussion point and she is clearly thinking about it. Personally, I wouldn't want to move in with any of my kids, but I may change my mind twenty years down the line. :-)

    1. You summarized my dilemma. We don't want to be a burden and don't to impose extra responsibilities on either daughter. Yet, as several as noted above a multi-generational situation has many benefits and there are ways to get professional nursing help as needed.

      We both are independent people and that plays a part in any discussion. Our youngest daughter is not married and not likely to do so. Betty and I, along with her close-by sister's family, are her family. How would she feel about some direct involvement in our care? We haven't asked directly but told her of our current plans which she supports.

    2. I would not see shared living as a loss of independence in most circumstances unless one felt that the family members one would move in with would be too controlling. Depending on my physical abilities, I would still be active in all the organizations I am in now, and doing what I am doing and in my case at least, it would be both feasable and welcome to entertain small groups in the shared house (my son in law the partial at home pet parent would just look at is an excuse to cook, lol)

    3. My mom, as a retired nurse, is pretty much doing 24/7 nursing care for her DH even though they have a nurse visiting for direct care a few times/week. Even given the nurse visits, the burden is on the person living with the elderly person who needs care. At this point, mom is looking at respite care for herself because the toll is just too high on an elderly spouse - physically and mentally.

      Also wanted to comment on Barb's comment: Personality and relationship determine a lot of this particular concern. You sound like you have worked out a great situation. Some people are people pleasers and caregivers by nature and have a hard time saying no or doing less of that if they are in someone else's "space" or perceive themselves to be. At least I think that's the worry. Again, it's such an individual thing.

    4. Oops...respite care for DH that will help her get a break.

    5. I think we are coming at this from a very privileged place. No family is the Waltons.I saw my mom in law struggle to get along with her own Mother at times, and I saw my Mom in power struggles with my sometimes overbearing grandma too. I believe the GAIN from LEARNING how to live together is worth it. I am starting to believe the rugged individualism that Americans assume is NOT very survival-oriented. I think it is time for a change.

  7. All great advice. We have no plans to move in with children (or them with us) ... but you never know!

    1. No, you don't. We are planning the same path as you, but life has a way of throwing us off course (like 2020, so far!)

  8. In our family no one had any interest in multi generational living. Everyone saved enough to stay independent. We intend to follow this example. Not every family resembles the Waltons.
    I would like to see more desire from the public to resolve the issues we face, but I don't see it coming. The boomers were already destined to place an enormous burden on public spending. With the added debt incurred from C19 this issue will become critical in the future. I do not expect the following generations to have much sympathy for us. God bless the child, and parent, that has their own.

    1. "Not every family resembles the Waltons" is a great way to put it, Fred. The multi-general model needs to have a total buy-in from everyone for it to work.

  9. Six years ago my husband and I downsized to a townhouse and also purchased a retirement townhouse in an warmer climate we wanted to spend winters in. We retired in 2018 and use that home half time and our current home the rest of the time. My mother moved into our winter home in 2016 because she couldn't afford to live on her own. (We share the home with her when we're there and she lives alone the rest of the time.) She's 91 and doing well physically and mentally. My sister lives across the street and takes care of her day to day needs. Mom has her own room and uses the common bathroom. (We use the master suite.)

    My mother gives us $330 a month (30% of her income) and we cover all living expenses, including a housekeeper twice a month. Mom but eats dinner with us, but buys the rest of her own food.

    I feel resentful sometimes because she acts entitled to everything. She leaves her personal items in common areas and takes over cabinets in the kitchen with things I'd rather she kept in her own space. She even took over our guest room with her stuff until I insisted she only use one bedroom. (I need a room for my children to use when they visit us.) My mother was not the nurturing kind and is a bit of a narcissist.

    Other than my sister who shops for her, she has little interaction with my siblings (I'm one of 10 children, most of which whom live far away) and I'm a little resentful that they don't help.

    My sister across the street thinks I should just provide it all for nothing, but I'm kind of mad at my mom for not preparing for her old age and feel like this holds her accountable for that. Before she came to us she had no savings whatsoever. Now that my sister manages her finances she's built up a little, but she fell recently and her hospital stay is using that up. Otherwise she spends the rest of her money on magazines and specialty items for herself and never has any extra. If she didn't give that money to me she'd just waste it frivolously.

    Hubby and I aren't good communicators and she's even worse than we are, so that isn't good. We all get along okay, although I don't feel appreciated. She occasionally empties the dishwasher, but that's all she does around the house. (I don't expect more.)

    I'd say that however people interact with you before you share a home with them will probably be exacerbated when you do, so don't be surprised. LOL

    1. Hopefully, this post and all the comments help people willing to take this step can appreciate it is not always simple or even very pleasant. Thank you for being so open about what is happening.

      At 91 your mom's problem may be somewhat age-related. Dementia or something could be at least partly responsible for some of her personal habits. That doesn't make it any easier on those around her but may help explain some of it.

      You mentioned communication as a family problem. Certainly not uncommon, but a major source of the type of unpleasantness you find yourself.

  10. We moved states and my mom moved with us. She was 93 at that time. We had planned to have her for a number of years, but only got one with her. She had her own room, bathroom, and living room/office and use of any other space she wanted. She got her own breakfast and lunch most days, and often ate dinner with us. In our case it was great to have her here. However, once she developed CHF it was a bit harder since we had home health coming and it was harder to leave her alone for needed short trips. We did two, but decided not to do any others. She did well until she had a stroke and then passed 5 weeks later. We still miss her six years later.

    1. Overall, that sounds like a positive experience for you, your family, and mom. Chronic Heart Failure does create extra challenges, especially as you note, in taking breaks from caring.

      Thank you for sharing your personal story.

  11. I've enjoyed reading all the comments.I think that we can all hope for some ideal situation but really,especially now, does it exists? Many families are having challenges across all the generations right now.If an adult child loses a job and moves in with parents, maybe it will start to feel like it is ok to continue to live like that long term ?? And if parents require a little assistance, after GIVING assistance, is that a fair expectation? I think in the next bunch of years, economic realities will make us HAVE TO change, but it would be great if we can start now, with rethinking our "needs" our "wants" and our obligations to one another within a family. I think for many many people, the younger generations as well as the older, all bets are off right now and we will be coming up with NEW WAYS to go forward.. it doesn't have to be "all bad.." it could be very good.

  12. Bob, a very interesting topic. In our family, we have had various experiences of extended family living. When I was a teen, my aunt (father’s sister) who was divorced and lived alone moved in with us for about 10 years until her workplace transferred her to another town. She had her own separate apartment in the basement. She was a wonderful person, and we kids loved having her there. Prior to that, our whole family had moved in with her for nearly a year when my parent’s deal to purchase a new house fell through at the last minute. Before I knew him, Rob lived with his adult daughter and son in law for about three years while his daughter was attending university. He rented a house for the three of them and had his own separate space in the basement. At various times, both Rob and I have had our adult sons live with us.

    Our current home is quite large with a suite. When we purchased it, part of our thinking was that at some point we might use the suite for a family member — my mom who has since passed away, my brother who has a disability, or one of our children who might experience financial difficulties. We also thought that, perhaps when we are older, we might have a family member who could help us out live in the suite, or a hired caregiver. Or alternatively, we could could move into the suite which is ground level, and one of our kids & family move in upstairs. Or we could use the suite as a mortgage helper, or sell the home and move into assisted living. We feel fortunate to have lots of options.


    1. I love all the experiences you and your family have had with various living arrangements, and the flexibility of everyone involved. Your history makes it clear that a family will do what it must, or what it loves, to overcome obstacles and make them opportunities.

      Nicely said, Jude.


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