When Mary Nankivil’s aging mother-in-law decided she no longer felt safe living alone, it took the family by surprise. She wanted to move in. But with Mary working full-time, her husband in poor health, and a teenage son still living at home, this unexpected announcement left her scrambling.
Fortunately, their home had a mother-in-law suite in the back, so they had space available. And because her husband was home all day, Mary thought they would be able to keep each other company and help take care of each other.
The arrangement didn’t work out quite the way she expected, though. Her husband and mother-in-law tended to stay in their own rooms until dinner time. It was confusing for her teenaged son to share space with his grandmother, and it was distressing for her mother-in-law to see her son’s ailing health. It was also stressful for Mary to be carrying the responsibility of everyone’s care. Eventually she hired a caregiver to come in during the day to help out.
“It wasn’t easy on any of us,” says Mary.
Nankivil says there was never any question that they’d make it work, and she has no regrets. But some advanced planning — or even a detailed discussion right before the move-in — would have gone a long way toward smoothing the transition.
Making quick decisions
Some advanced planning — or even a detailed discussion right before the move-in — would have gone a long way toward smoothing the transition.
As a senior care advisor, working with seniors over the past 10 years, I’ve often seen families who are faced with making similar quick decisions due to an unexpected injury or illness. Many other families arrive at a decision more gradually as they observe a change in the health or memory of an aging parent as they reach a stage where they can no longer live alone.
And that is exactly why I suggest that adult children and their parents take time to discuss these potential situations — and make a plan in advance, particularly if they are thinking of opening their home to their parents.
For some adult children, having a parent move in simply isn’t an option. And with so many senior living choices out there these days, many older adults actually prefer the independence, socialization, and on-site care availability of a senior living community. But for those considering moving their parent home, here are some things to consider.
- Your relationship. Families that typically get along can generally make it work. But even then, you should understand that there will be bumps in the road. And if you and your parent(s) have never gotten along, there’s no reason to think this will change. Don’t be pressured into a situation that’s not right for either of you.
- Finances. While living with you will certainly save your parent’s money, you need to determine expectations in advance — with both of you answering the hard questions. Do you expect your parent to contribute to household finances? If you have siblings, will they contribute to any additional expenses you incur? And who will handle your parent’s finances? It’s a good idea to have a Power of Attorney in place from the start even if mom or dad can handle their own finances now.
- Living arrangements. Do you have a separate area of the house that they can make their own? Will you eat dinners together? Can they entertain?
- Caregiving arrangements. Will you be their primary caregiver? If so, will you be paid? Are they OK with hiring a professional caregiver? If so, who will pay for that? Can siblings or other relatives pitch in to help out with this task?
- Division of duties. If your parent is still in fairly good health, will they take part in helping around the house? Cooking? Grocery shopping? Cleaning their own area? Babysitting?
These questions are just a starting point and the answers will depend on the age and health of the parent, of course. Resources such as your local AARP office or senior center, your church, aging and disability resource centers, and hospital or clinic social workers can provide valuable information and insights for your specific concerns.
Having a plan in place can help ease the transition, reduce misunderstandings, and keep the relationships between adult children and their parents, as well as their own children, and their adult siblings, all running smoothly.
Sue Sveum is a writer whose experience helping her aging parents led to a specialty in writing for and about seniors and their families. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and their Golden Retriever, Wrigley.