Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Should I Move My Parents In With Me?

The following blog is an excerpt from my book The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving available directly from me for $14.95 plus shipping.

I wish more people would ask me this question before going ahead and doing it. It can be a great solution IF the caregiver is prepared for what it will really mean. Too often, though, people have an overly romantic notion about how great it will be for their children to have their grandparents nearby and how wonderful it will be to have a closer relationship with mom and dad. They look forward to the move only to find out that dementia has changed grandpa into a mean-spirited person who spouts obscenities and grandma is so used to having her way in her own home that she is not prepared for the shift in role being a member of a combined household can mean.

Even in the very best of situations it is not simple to lose your autonomy after years of being independent. It’s hard for parents to be the rulers of their own roost and suddenly have to learn to negotiate and compromise. It’s devastating to have to lose a lifetime of belongings and the precious memories each of those possessions holds to move into a smaller space. Even young healthy people find it challenging to make the shifts and changes a new living arrangement tends to entail, especially when it involves multiple people and long-standing family dynamics. For elders, it’s doubly so.

People who have lived all their lives in multiple family households do the best... but I rarely meet those people because large extended family units who band together to share the work don’t tend to need my assistance so much. It can also work well if a family has a private apartment on the same property so their parents have their own domain and the caregiver’s family maintains its privacy and daily routines. When people choose to share a more limited space, communication about beliefs and expectations needs to be particularly clear, and there needs to be patience with the shifts and changes and negotiation living together often entails. It can be very rewarding. Mutual exchange between the generations really CAN be one of the best things you could do. But it’s equally important to plan ahead for the challenges and pitfalls. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can you and your parent speak honestly and openly? Do you communicate well enough to work out differences of opinion?
  2. Do you and your parent have unresolved conflicts between you?
  3. Is there enough room in your house for everyone to have sufficient privacy?
  4. 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? Can you afford to do it?
  5. Have you determined how much care your parent will need? Can you realistically provide that much care?
  6. What will happen if more care is needed? Have you talked about long-term arrangements?
  7. How do all members of the family feel about this decision? Is anyone going to be resentful or unhappy? Are you prepared to deal with that?
  8. Are you ready to state the rules of your household and set limits on what you will or will not do? Will your parent be able to accept these expectations and limitations?
  9. How do you really feel about sharing your household? Will you be able to give up some of your autonomy in order to allow your parents to have some say in decision-making and household responsibilities? Have you created strategies to address these concerns, if any?
  10. Will you be able to find other living arrangements for your parent if the situation is no longer working?
  11. What will be great about living together? Will the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

These questions represent only the tip of the iceberg. The Family Caregiving Alliance has a well-written and very thorough fact sheet on their website called “Home Away from Home: Relocating Your Parents.” If this is your issue it’s well worth a read!

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