Before a Parent Moves In:
by Emily Carton, LISW
An Emotional Checklist for the Families
It would be wonderful if all relationships were easy all the time,
especially with those that we love and cherish most. When someone gets ill,
or can't live alone, the question of where they should live and whether they
should live with us sometimes raises issues that become broader than our
feelings of love. Care giving, or even the reshifting of a relationship with
a parent, can be both exciting and stressful. Depending on your own family
history when a parent can no longer live alone it may be a natural instinct
to scream: "No, never! My parent can't live with me!" Or, for some, the
love, the caring, and the natural sense of responsibility may move you
quickly and emotionally in the other direction. After all, our parents
took care of us, fed us, bathed us, nursed us through illness. Isn't it
reasonable that at some level we would want, if we could, to give back to
them the care they had given to us?
For those who are fortunate to have had good and loving relationships with
parents or in-laws you considering having a parent move in with you may be
an excellent arrangement. The decision may be clear. The circumstances may
be right. But before you make a decision, both you and your parent need to
determine if it is really the best option. What may seem like a perfect
solution may or may not be the best option in the long run. The positive
sides are obvious. Older people have so much to offer in terms of family
life, family history, and can be real contributors to the raising of
children or making life at home easier. Much can be said for the benefits
and beauty of multigenerational living. Our elders have given. We want to
give back. Yet, despite these feelings, consider the situation with
honestly and look at it practically. Can it work? What do you have to do
to make it work?
Here are some of the questions and issues that you may want to address
before making a decision.
Be honest with yourself about the basis of your relationship with your
parent. A parent needs to do the same. Has the relationship been one of
openness and honesty? Do you have a way of sorting out differences? Have
there been past conflicts? If so, have they been resolved?. The last thing
either you or your parent needs is to have unresolved conflicts when you are
making a major change.
What will the living conditions be? Is there enough room in your home for
everyone to have privacy? Is your home able to be adapted for someone who
may have disabilities or whose mobility might be impaired? Are there
specific needs that may require remodeling?
How much care does your parent need? Can he or she live independently. How
much assistance is needed? Is it assistance that you can realistically
provide? What will happen if more care is needed? Have you talked about
long term arrangements?
Have you consulted with your other family members? How do they feel about
having a grandparent/in-law moving in? Is anyone going to be resentful or
unhappy? Are you prepared to deal with those issues?
How do you feel about sharing your household? How will your parent feel
when the age old rules have been changed. Can your parent adjust to this
change? Are you ready to state the rules of your household and set limits
on what you will and will not do? Will you be able to find other living
arrangements for your parent if the situation is no longer working?
Use these questions as a beginning and an outline for a discussion among all
the people involved. Talk honestly about your concerns, your desires, and
try to sort out what you wish you could do versus what you realistically can
do. Sometimes a loving and caring relationship between a parent and child
does not necessarily translate into a happy living arrangement anymore than
two close friends can bridge those gaps sharing a house for a two week
vacation. It would be ideal if we lived in a world where, from generation
to generation, we shared values, our life styles were simple, and the
answers were clear. Having a parent live with you could be a wonderful
experience for everyone. If circumstances make this possible it is a real
gift and well worth the compromises that both sides would need to make. But
remember, the most important thing is that you have the best possible
relationship with your parent and that you both think this through
carefully. Whatever decision you and your parent make it should be a
positive one and not one made out of guilt, obligation, or a sense of
Emily Carton is a geriatric social worker with ElderOptions in the
Washington Metropolitan area. She is also a bibliotherapy intern at St.
Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC working with the chronically mentally
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