The decision to move a parent into your house can follow a crisis. Maybe they’ve had a stroke and you’ve got the biggest house out of the ‘kids’ to accommodate them. Or maybe the move has followed months of discussion about their failing health or shaky finances.
Either way, experts say combining households affects every member of today’s ‘Club Sandwich Generation’ from toddlers to great-grandparents. Plenty of planning, setting clear boundaries and encouraging open communication can help preserve harmony even under difficult circumstances.
Multi-generational households on the rise
An ageing population, expensive housing, expensive care and a struggling economy. These factors are pushing an increasing number of families to join forces across the generations, living together under one roof.
The move can bring rewards as well as stresses. Besides saving money and keeping an aging loved one safe, many families say a blended household forges closer bonds between the generations. Children will always remember Grandma baking cookies for them and attending school plays.
But joining a younger household can be an emotionally-laden role reversal for the parent. Even in the midst of a loving family, an aging parent may feel a real sense of loss of independence and autonomy. That sense of loss may crop up in odd ways, such as resistance or controlling behaviour around food or housekeeping routines.
Expectations and communication
Moving a parent in with you changes the family dynamic. It requires planning ahead and honest communication about ground rules and boundaries. You can’t treat an elder like a house guest, always putting on ‘company manners’. Simultaneously, you’ve got to preserve the core family’s unity while not making your parent feel useless or invisible. It’s a delicate balancing act, but make sure you have those hard conversations as soon as problems arise.
Many adult ‘children’ expect their parents will be a live-in babysitter — only later realising that they too need care as their health declines. If your parent has any physical or mental conditions, find out everything you can about their prognosis from a doctor. Before making the big move, consider moving in with your parent for a week or two to make sure you can manage their care on your own.
Getting the help you need
Home care can help relieve over-taxed family carers, but some aging parents resist outside help. Your parent may resist having a health-aide so you can go shopping. They have the right to make bad decisions, but we don’t have to enable them. Be careful about sacrificing your own needs, because that often leads to resentment. Family carers should also beware making a frail elder the focus of attention, ignoring a spouse or children.
Blended households may require a solicitor’s assistance to anticipate problems, mediate family disputes and prepare written agreements, particularly when money is involved. If your parent’s money is used to compensate the carer or build an extension (or even buy a bigger house), that can lead to a lot of suspicion and resentment later on. In those cases families should get legal advice to avoid disagreements over final estate settlement. A solicitor for the elderly can also help protect their assets.
Just remember, that despite the ups and downs, welcoming an aging loved one into your home can have unexpected benefits and bring your family closer.
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