Living together again with your aging parents can prove to be a bit surprising. It can be fantastic, stressful, and sometimes a bit of both. In many cases, people live with aging parents to help take care of them. In others, there might be financial reasons for combining households.
No matter the reason, living together can present unique challenges. Even if you have been living with aging parents for a while, it is never too late to improve communication and put some protocols in place for a better experience.
Your independence and well-being are important too. Balancing your needs with that of your parents can be tricky. You may not be able to think of everything all at once, but with the tips listed below, hopefully you can have a good head start.
1. Make Sure Your Aging Parent Has Advance Directives
Not only are advance directives necessary, but so is general long-term care planning. Without these documents in place, a medical event or illness can become a full-blown crisis. Even if your parents are relatively healthy and independent, that doesn’t mean things will stay that way forever.
If you are already a care provider for one or both of your parents, you know how important these documents are. Both advocacy and decision-making on behalf of a parent require legal authority. The other advantage of going through this process is getting the opportunity to learn what your parent’s end-of-life and medical treatment wishes are.
As part of long-term planning, it’s worth discussing other housing options should they become necessary. Perhaps your parent is planning to fund in-home caregivers around the clock if the need arises. Knowing their preference can help you assist them when the time comes.
If your parent is open to assisted living, visit places before you need them. Making decisions under stress can lead to hasty and poorly thought out conclusions. Pick out your top three spots and keep a record of the details of each location. That way, when you need a place you will already have some good ones in mind.
2. Accept a New Relationship Dynamic
When an adult child lives with their aging parents, things will change. There is a shift in the relationship that isn’t necessarily negative but might take some adjustment. This dynamic may shift in unpredictable ways related to how dependent your parent is on you for care.
If you are a caregiver for your aging parent, recognize that it might be hard for a parent to accept their child taking care of them. When you live together in the same household, it is not easy to hide or minimize deficits and disabilities.
Even if the move was for financial reasons, independence versus dependence issues are bound to come up. Being aware of this dynamic will help you respond in ways that are thoughtful and caring.
3. Respect Your Parent’s Autonomy
It can always feel kind of difficult to nurture a sense of independence, especially if you are moving in with your aging parents. As you navigate the changing dynamics between you and your parent, recognize that the foundation of a good relationship is based on respect.
Autonomy is the ability to make decisions for yourself, even if those decisions might be questioned by someone else. Showing respect for an aging parent’s freedom involves taking these steps:
- Allow your parent to make mistakes. A senior adult is not a child and should not be treated as such. Everyone makes mistakes, and your parent is no different.
- Ask your parent what they want any time you can. Try not to assume you know what is best.
- Involve your parent in any decisions regarding their care. Even small care tasks are important to discuss.
- You are living in your parent’s home. Be mindful not to take over responsibilities without asking first.
4. Talk About Problems and Conflicts
One of the biggest mistakes families can make to ignore conflict or disagreement, hoping that it will go away on its own. More often than not, disagreements can fester and lead to resentment if they are not discussed.
Here are some suggestions for clearing the air and resolving problems:
- Schedule regular family meetings to discuss any issues that have come up. A scheduled meeting lends an air of decorum and seriousness to the situation. Set some ground rules about how discussions should take place. For example, allowing everyone time to speak and not interrupting.
- Be open and flexible when discussing problems. There may very well be some specific complaints about you. Try not to be defensive, and be willing to compromise in changing your behavior.
- If it is helpful, invite other adult children to these discussions. In cases where there is an impasse, another family member can give a different perspective.
- If the conflict becomes too pervasive, talk about whether the current situation is sustainable.
5. Rely on Supportive Resources
If you get to a point where care needs exceed what you can provide, look to local and other resources for help. Make sure you discuss these options with your parent first.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Meals on Wheels through your local area agency on aging. Meals on Wheels delivers meals to your doorstep.
- In-home caregivers to help take the pressure off of caregiving duties. In-home caregiving is typically paid through private means, so discuss budgeting with your parent and decide on a schedule together.
- In the right circumstance, adult day care can provide a valuable respite for both you and your aging parent. Most adult day care centers have flexible hours and are more affordable than in-home care.
- Disease-specific and general caregiver support groups offer valuable insights and community. Some of these support groups are in-person, but most are available online.
- Ask your siblings for support, whether it be through occasional respite or specific tasks to take some of the caregiver burdens off you. This assistance could be something as simple as picking up groceries or prescription medications.
6. Focus on Self-Care
Living with an aging parent can get stressful and complicated. Taking care of yourself is a critical piece of being successful in this endeavor. Self-care is personal in that each person finds the best way to take care of themselves when they are stressed or burned out.
Chief among these suggestions is to focus on your health, both mental and physical. Find productive and effective ways to deal with stress, such as doing meditation, yoga, or getting a massage. Even if you can’t find quiet time to do some yoga, make it a point to incorporate activity into your day. Taking a daily walk can help more than you think. If at all possible, take time to be alone each week.
While it also seems obvious, make sure that you also maintain your health. Keeping a healthy diet for yourself, engaging in preventative healthcare, and avoiding too much alcohol can go a long way.
Ask for help when you need it. If you feel that your mental health is suffering, talk to your doctor, and consider therapy. Talk to your friends, and make sure to nurture relationships outside of the house.
It can be easy to be singularly focused on caring for your parents and your household, so if you can, try to avoid becoming socially isolated. Conversely, encourage your parents to seek out their peers to expand their social network.
7. Monitor Your Resentment
Caregiver resentment may not be a problem for you, but it can be for many people. The circumstances that led to your decision to live with your aging parents may have involved great sacrifice. Resentment can grow as a result of that sacrifice.
Monitor your feelings and if necessary, and as mentioned previously, talk with someone about it. You don’t want to damage your relationship with your parent by holding onto destructive emotions. Caregiver burnout is real. Consider that you may need a temporary or permanent break and discuss this with your family.
8. Discuss a Backup Plan
Ideally, discussing a backup plan before you need it is best. But it may not always work out this way. There may come a time when you or your parent may be ready for a change. What this change looks like can vary. It could be that your parent wants you to move, or you might have caregiver burnout and need a break. Perhaps your family and work life have suffered.
Or your parent may need more care than you can safely provide. In this case, there are several options. One is to hire in-home care, and the other is to consider assisted living or another alternative to assisted living. It is up to your parent to decide what is best for them.
Sometimes a crisis forces everyone to reevaluate the living situation. For example, your parent breaks a hip and returns home needing much more assistance than before. Or, your parent develops dementia and requires more supervision. There is always the possibility that you or another member of your family may have health problems that complicate the living situation.
If you are unable to continue the current living situation, talk about it with your parent. Have a plan in mind so that they don’t feel abandoned. No matter the reasoning behind it, be honest about your reasons for no longer being able to live with them. Make it about you and not your parent. Discuss your suggestions for a plan and possible solutions.
9. Always Be Flexible
Being flexible is often easier said than done. Change is a normal part of aging and life. You and your parent may need to be nimble in your decisions in response to changes. Accepting that things will not stay the same will help you react in positive and constructive ways.
The aging process is different for everyone, but you can expect that there may be a slow decline punctuated by occasional crises. It is normal for everyone to be stressed during a crisis, but your patient response will set the tone for good decisions.
How to Deal with Living with Aging Parents
It is a given that living with aging parents is not always easy. However, remember that your commitment to this process shows how much you care.
By building a sound foundation of communication, flexibility, and self-care, you can make sure everyone can thrive and adapt to any changes that may come your way.