Before a Parent Moves In:
An Emotional Checklist for the Families

by Emily Carton, LISW

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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 entitlement.

5/29/98

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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 ill.

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