When Living With Your Aging Parent Isn’t Working Out
As time passes and our senior parents begin to rely on us for more support, conflicts can arise.
Learn about some of these family conflicts and see our tips for having an honest conversation with your aging parent if living with them isn’t working out.
Living With Your Aging Parent
Late one night as Lynette Whiteman and her husband Marty relaxed, they heard the dreaded creak of someone slowly ascending the stairs leading to their bedroom.
“Marty?” Lynette’s 86-year-old mother, Mildred, called out. “Marty!”
This time, the crisis couldn’t wait. A light bulb in her room burned out, and Mildred needed it changed right away. Sometimes, she knocked on the couple’s door at midnight, demanding that Marty crawl out of bed to reset her microwave clock.
The new living situation was taking a toll on the couple’s marriage as tension over roles and privacy increased. Yet moving Lynette’s mom from her retirement community into their Toms River, New Jersey home seemed like a good idea initially.
When Lynette’s father died in 2011, Mildred grew depressed and isolated. Lynette’s dad was the outgoing one, often nudging Mildred out of her shell for social events. Now Lynette was worried. What if Mildred fell while she was alone?
Lynette’s father had provided well for Mildred financially. It seemed like a good idea to use part of Mildred’s savings to build an apartment onto the Whiteman’s home so Lynette’s mom could move in.
“We figured she’d have somebody if something happened in the middle of the night, and we could help her with her bills,” says Lynette. So, in 2012, Mildred moved into the small, in-home apartment with a private kitchen and bathroom.
“It was a great idea in concept,” says Lynette, executive director at Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey. “We didn’t know what we were getting into.”
Live-In Caregiving: When Fantasy Meets Reality
It’s tempting to idealize the live-in caregiver arrangement, believing you’ll save time by not having to run back and forth to the parent’s home. Statistics say otherwise:
- Family caregivers who live with the person they’re caring for spend 40.5 hours per week taking care of that person, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance
- Most care recipients reside in their own home (48%)
- One in three reside in their caregiver’s home (35%)
“Moving someone into your home is an enormous commitment,” says Jennifer FitzPatrick, author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One.”
Sometimes moving in an older parent works out well, such as when the parent needs some help but can also contribute to the household by doing things like cooking meals or helping grandkids with homework, says FitzPatrick. The live-in arrangement can also save money if you move in with Dad so he won’t have to move to assisted living and then rent out your own home.
However, moving a parent into your home can also be expensive. What if Dad moves in and needs care but has limited funds? You’ll also have higher grocery and utility bills and may have to spend money on renovations to accommodate your parent’s physical limitations.
Whatever you decide, one thing is certain. “Don’t expect moving in to fix all your problems,” says FitzPatrick.
The Third Person in the Marriage
After their adult sons moved out, Marty and Lynette grew accustomed to their newfound privacy and spontaneity. However, when Lynette’s mom moved in, all privacy disappeared.
“It was a hard adjustment, having a third person observing all the time,” says Lynette. The couple also ended spontaneous dinners out and last-minute weekend vacations, since they had to cook for Mildred, who didn’t like to be left alone.
Meanwhile, Lynette, who needs a good amount of alone time, yearned for even a few minutes of solitude. “Now I always had to cook for Mom and never got time to myself.”
Lynette and Marty grew frustrated with each other’s ideas of how the new arrangement should be handled. Sometimes, Lynette didn’t care for Marty’s tone with her mom. Marty began to resent Mildred’s increasing demands.
“We fought more than we had in a really long time,” says Lynette. “It complicated everything.”
When Moving in Isn’t Working Out
If living with your aging parent isn’t working out, chances are your parent feels the same way, says FitzPatrick, who recommends having an honest talk with your mom or dad.
Here are her suggestions:
1. Ask your parent how he or she feels about the arrangement. “Don’t assume your parent will be heartbroken that you don’t think it’s going well,” says FitzPatrick. “Starting the discussion and asking their opinion shows respect.”
2. Address challenges faced by everyone involved. For example, you might focus on the lack of privacy that every person in the household, including the parent, is experiencing. Then discuss possible solutions.
3. Prepare yourself psychologically. If your parent has a history of being unreasonable or overly dependent on you, seek support from a counselor, care manager or a friend ahead of time.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your parent needs to move. “Just because you may not live together anymore doesn’t mean you’re shirking your duties,” says FitzPatrick. “As long as you help your parent find a suitable living arrangement, there’s no reason to beat yourself up.”
Adjusting to a New Family Dynamic
Marty and Lynette’s situation improved after the couple agreed to work as a team. “Instead of always blaming him for things, I had to realize he’s a great husband and a great guy,” says Lynette. “He even shops for her. Once I came to realize we’re on the same team, it made it a lot easier.”
The couple also hired an aide to come in once a week to give Mildred, now 91, a shower and do her hair. “We put her meds out for her, eat dinner and watch Jeopardy with her every night,” says Lynette. “Five years into this, we’re getting out a little bit.”
Lynette had to finally face the fact that she could never transform her mother, who still isolates herself at home, into a happy person. She could only make sure her mom was safe and taken care of.
“There’s a lot of shame with not wanting your mother to move in with you, or she is there and it’s not peaches and roses,” says Lynette. “If I had to do it again, I probably would because it’s the right thing to do. The one thing I know for sure is that I never want to move in with my kids.”
How did you handle living with your aging parent? What tips do you have to share with other caregivers? We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.
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