When Aging Parents Move In…

The desire to do the right thing begins with good intentions. Sometimes that is enough, but in most cases the burden of caregiving requires adjustments in perspective, language and behavior. While the predictable dilemmas of aging are unavoidable, understanding the psychological dynamics of “in-home” care can help both generations reduce the stress of cohabitation.

It’s important to remember that having aging parents move in is a social experiment both literally and historically. The communal scaffolding of the past, close knit families within blocks of each other ready to lend a hand, is gone. As problematic, there is usually no experience of intergenerational living for adult children to fall back on. Most caregivers realize from day one they are essentially winging it.

Add to this the layers of interconnected dilemmas that impact all aspects of caregiving. A rising tide of complexity is comingled with tsunami events that make messy outcomes the norm. All of this begs the most important aspect of the move in: managing expectations.

While it can be sobering, it is profoundly beneficial to be honest about what you can control. This prelude of humility will go a long way in mitigating exaggerated guilt from insisting on perfect outcomes or heroic self-destruction from single handedly trying to keep everything together.

It is essential to map out a backup plan no matter how good things look at the beginning. You can’t predict the future or how things will fall apart. Investigate in-home services, adult daycare, assisted living, and skilled nursing care in your community. Doing this will offer you the opportunity to make friends with professionals who have seen it all before, an invaluable resource when you are drowning in a crisis.

Assess the limits of spousal consensus. Even in the best of circumstances, allegiances are strained or undone with parents in the house. What are limits of care from each partner’s perspective? Are there one-sided promises that will drive a wedge in the relationship at the worse possible time? Talking about this before an aging parent moves in makes it easier to revisit it as things change.

Once you are clear about what you control, a backup plan, and spousal consensus, have “the talk” with the aging parent about moving in. Framing and language are everything. Be clear that the goal is to preserve choice and, equally important, quality of life for both generations. Make it clear that while no one can predict the future, one thing is certain: more help will be needed at some point. The good news is that help can comes in many forms. As with spousal consensus, talking about needing help at the beginning makes it easier to revisit it when you need it.

Finally, set up a “move in” support system. Something a simple as biweekly debriefing with a non-judgmental friend offers a safe environment to say what you feel and get help sorting out issues. As with all caregiver challenges, a support group is also an invaluable asset amid the tough decisions that come with doing the right thing.