When we are young, living with our parents is accepted as a perfectly normal arrangement. But, as we grow older, and our aging parents start to depend on us for support, living together under one roof can take on a new complexity, even though the same people are involved.
For 13 years, I lived in this kind of blended home. My husband and I jointly purchased a home with his mother and turned a roomy split-level house into two living spaces that gave all of us our privacy and still offered an element of supportive togetherness.
People I meet often say, “I couldn’t do that,” and I agree it’s not an arrangement that works for everyone. For instance, I doubt I would have done as well if it had been *my* mother moving in with us. But this situation worked well for us for over a decade. My mother-in-law was fairly independent and liked her privacy as much as she respected ours.
When my mother-in-law became less mobile, she made the decision to move into a senior residence in a community where she had spent over 50 years raising her family and where she still had many friends. There, she felt she would be able to access increasing amounts of care, and enjoy the companionship offered by the communal setting.
While it is not the best choice for everyone, moving into the home of a family member, or having them move in with you, can be a positive change. But before you make the decision, you need to think through all the pros and cons. Having lived in this type of situation increased my awareness about what works and what doesn’t so, in 2007, when I published a book about housing for seniors, I was able to draw upon many of my own experiences.
(A new version of To Move or Not to Move will be published in June 2016. To be put on the waitlist for a copy of this book, email your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-479-4705 ext. 100.)
Among your considerations should be the level of compatibility between those who will reside together and what would happen if the care needs change. You cannot anticipate everything. Sometimes you just have to give it a try and see what happens. For many, the arrangement of living with a family member has proven to be extremely successful. For others, it has not. Every situation will be different.
Even if you are blessed with loving and caring relationships, living together can create stresses you would not normally face in everyday relationships, where you live independent of each other. Therefore, it’s important to give sufficient attention to some important questions before you make the move.
- Is your current relationship open and honest and are you able to settle differences without difficulty?
- Are there any unresolved issues between you? Sort these out before you move in together. They won’t go away and will likely expand. Seek the help of a counsellor, if necessary. Don’t sweep how you feel under the rug and hope for the best.
- Are relationships between extended family members (siblings, for example) stable enough to support this arrangement or can you foresee difficulties arising from differences of opinion or misunderstandings? Cut these off at the pass by talking about problems you have or could anticipate and make sure you are on the same page or these differences can come back to bite you.
- Are your spiritual beliefs compatible? Are you willing to be accepting of each other’s personal beliefs?
Sharing space can often be the greatest stressor of all on a day-to-day basis. In my situation, we overcame potential conflict by maintaining separate spaces and respecting the privacy of the other. Entering the other’s space required a knock and a loud “hello” before we crossed the threshold. This kept the respect factor intact, and ensured we didn’t inconvenience the other or intrude at inopportune times. Consider these questions.
- Will everyone live together, or will you have separate areas?
- Is there enough room for everyone to live comfortably but still have an area for total privacy?
- Will you create areas you share and areas where you can each have your own privacy?
- Will both parties co-mingle or will there be an actual physical door to separate one person’s area from the rest?
- How will the various parties interact? Will you be part of each other’s social time?
- To what degree will each person respect the other’s privacy and property?
- How will common areas be handled (laundry, kitchen, bathroom, garden, entrances, storage space, decks, etc.) How will you split the utility costs, especially if there’s an inequity in the use of utilities? Does one person like to crank up the heat or wash clothes every day? Does someone leave all the lights on all the time? These usage differences can lead to contention if a fair assignment of responsibility for utility expenses can’t be determined.
- Will food be prepared individually, or will it be communal? Will cooking duties be shared? Do you like each other’s cooking? Will you eat together, and if so, how often?
- How will everyone’s private area be maintained? Is someone messy or an accumulator? Is someone meticulous or minimal?
- Who will maintain the common areas? What about the yard?
- Are there mobility issues to consider – if not now, in the future?
- Is there a need for specialty equipment to be installed, renovations to the existing structure? Who will pay for these?
- Are there safety issues to consider, for example, adequate fire alarms or extinguishers, removal of uneven surfaces or loose rugs, etc.?
- Will an intercom system be required in case of emergency?
- Will someone need to be hired to stay with the senior person when the family member needs to go out or go away on vacation?
- Will noise be a factor? For example, loud TV or music, kids playing, dog barking, etc. How will you keep noise from becoming an agitation?
- Will pets need to be accommodated? Will existing pets get along with new pets?
- What furniture will be brought into the home and will it fit?
- Are there allergies (fragrances, foods, animals) to consider? Does someone require a special diet and can that be accommodated?
- If dementia or forgetfulness is an issue, how will this be coped with? Will special safety features need to be added to the home?
Finances present potential problems that, if not considered ahead of time, can lead to some sticky situations where more than just the principle participants are affected. With finances, it’s especially important to be clear and upfront. Spell it out in as much written clarity as you can before you jump into a cohabitating situation. The more you can define the situation from the onset, the less friction you will encounter along the way, and you will also head off any interference from other family members who are unclear about the arrangements and intentions.
- Can each party manage their own financial affairs? If not, who will take care of what?
- Are you planning to share the expenses of the home and, if so, how will the costs be divided and who is responsible for making sure payments are kept current?
- If you are planning to own a home together, consider what will happen financially and legally if one party or another cannot stay in the home due to illness or other reasons.
- Do all parties have up-to-date wills that address what will happen to the property upon the death of one party or another? Do you know where these wills are kept?
- It may be a good idea to involve a third party (like an accountant or lawyer) from the beginning, to avoid any potential problems.
- Is it necessary for each party to be aware of the other’s financial situation? If so, are parties comfortable sharing this info with each other?
- Are there other family members who will be involved or who may become upset over how financial matters are handled?
- Will other family members contribute to any financial expenditures that are out-of-pocket?
One of the concerns you should address is the potential for increased health issues. It’s impossible to predict one’s health, but it is possible to consider the potential problems and what you will do if something does pop up that requires medical attention or increased support. Don’t wait until an emergency happens to give the following questions some thought.
- Will your parent need assistance during the day? This is especially important if members of your family work or go to school outside the home.
- If assistance is required, what arrangements can be made?
- Will you be able to take off from work to take your mom or dad to appointments or provide care if they become ill?
- If your parent requires more care than you can provide, where will this come from and how will it be paid for?
- Can the current arrangements accommodate the addition of a careworker, either to visit regularly or live-in?
Role changes can be difficult for you and your family member. It is quite common to see parent/child role reversal as a parent becomes less capable of caring for themselves. Children of adult seniors may begin to take over responsibilities for finances, physical well-being, getting places and so forth. Neither parents nor their adult children usually find this role reversal comfortable. For seniors, giving up decision-making and choice can be an affront to their self-esteem. For adult children, it may be distressing to see their parent as dependant and vulnerable.
Living with someone may also mean abiding by “rules of the house.” Sometimes these “rules” can be intolerable, depending how closely you see eye to eye with the person making the rules. In some cases, you may actually enjoy the freedom to not have to make all the final decisions. This is fine, as long as the person making the decisions has agreed to accept this role. All parties should understand their level of authority and ability to contribute to the decisions, including how this may change over time, if the senior’s ability to manage their affairs deteriorates.
- Are you prepared for role reversals that may occur? For example, your child may need to take on the role of “parent” or “caregiver.”
- Are you prepared to accept rules or situations that may not always be 100 per cent to your liking?
- Do you have an open enough relationship with each other to talk honestly about how you are feeling?
- Do you have the coping skills needed to reach a resolution that is acceptable to everyone?
- Do extended family members understand and support the authority structure that is set up?
While this may be a lot to consider, the benefits of discussing these matters beforehand can lead to an easier transition and fewer conflicts down the road. Good communication is the basis of all great relationships, and few relationships are as significant and rewarding as the ones we have with family.
Next Issue: Caregiving, self-care, and the support of family members in a blended-family situation.
Editor’s Note: Next Issue: For almost 20 years, INSPIRED Senior Living publisher Barbara Risto has been a caregiver to a disabled family member. For the first time, she talks publicly about her unusual life – the challenges of being an entrepreneur and a caregiver, and how she has discovered meaning and satisfaction within a lifestyle that includes a passion for art, music, travel, cats and motorcycling.
FEBRUARY 2016 INSPIRED SENIOR LIVING
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