I am a fairly young person with two kids in elementary and middle school. My life is about carpools, school functions, and collage plans. My husband and I both work to keep the wheels turning. I was not planning on making a huge change to my life style, and then – my parent moves in!
I remember chatting with my dad about the “possibility” of him moving in. Then, with what seemed like a blink, he was at the door – boxes in hand. My husband and I helped my father situate into a covered patio we converted into a comfortable studio. We both carried boxes in a daze wondering what we had done exactly. There wasn’t an end date to Dad’s visit. In fact, it felt permanent.
My father was healthy at move in, but retired and reinventing himself. After decades of independence we suddenly had another opinionated adult sharing our daily lives. It felt wonderful in some moments and jarring in others.
If you are considering inviting your parent to share your home consider some of the emotional challenges that may lie ahead:
You Have a Roomate You Didn’t Necessary Want
My husband and I loved the idea of Grandpa close to our girls, participating in their young years. But, we quickly realized my father is an independent adult who has his own way of doing things, and expectations for his own comfort and routines.
Most of time we are respectful of his space and vise versa, but at times it seems clear we have a roomate with social rules we did not anticipate. Questions about food and cleaning become important to address. It helps to set boundaries for dealing with children living at home, and how the grandparent role fits with the housemate role.
It is very important that you have open and honest conversations about what living together might look like. If you are sharing a roof with your parent, you want to have clear expectations for both parties.
Old Patterns May Emerge
My father and I are both non-confrontational people which works out wonderfully most of the time. But, some of the parent child habits we spent 18 years developing creep back into the picture. As a teen I did most of the cooking, and my father would bring home the bacon – literally. Now, I work a lot, and often from home in the evening.
Dad may proudly walk into the house, and set his grocery store finds in front of my kitchen counter perch. He will look from me to the raw chicken breast waiting for me to fill my role as the 16-year-old maker of chicken – um no! There are four other capable cooks in our house including Dad who are not working in that precise dinner time moment.
It took a long time to undo the “I bring it home – you cook it pattern”. Now, the person who has the least going on assumes dinner responsibilities for the night. Don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one about habits and patterns that don’t work in the new arrangement, and celebrate the parts that do!
If your parent moves in because he or she is experiencing physical or cognitive issues, you may have less control of how your loved one responds to new patterns. Parents experiencing dementia my bring back old patterns that have been at rest for years, but feel fresh to your loved one. It is important to remember these behaviors are a result of illness.
You Might Feel Role Reversal Friction
I am an adult who makes hundreds of different decisions every day. I haven’t asked permission or considered what I could and couldn’t do in my house – because it is mine! When a parent moves in he isn’t the owner of that home, and doesn’t have the same carte blanche he enjoyed when “you lived under his roof”. If you have invited your loved one to move in, you have effectively said my home is now your home again. But, there are still teeter totter movements when child and parent struggle for home decision dominance.
My Dad begrudgingly puts up with my no red wine on white couches policy, and I deal with his elevator music choices. We are now sharing roles we both individually held with ease.
Your Otherwise Supportive Spouse May Not Love the New Arrangement
I spent my entire life learning the nuanced language of my father. I know what his raised eyebrow means, and how far I can tease before I get the look. I enjoy hearing my father laugh with friends on the phone. And, I like chatting with him in the morning when we share a cup of coffee. These activities feel natural to me and take me to a good place.
My wonderful husband has none of those experience anchors to keep him emotionally grounded in this tumultuous family blending. He is on strange footing with a strange person on his home turf. Be patient with family members who don’t have the emotional history you do with your loved one. You have to be willing to allow family members to find their own way to respectfully share space.
Your Parent May Require Emotional Capital You Don’t Have
My husband and I work. We run the kids around and keep the house going. By the end of the day we are zapped and nearly fall into bed. We are mindful to stay connected with each other throughout the busy day. When your parent moves in, the delicate balance you created to keep your sanity and your life my become disrupted.
If you loved one is leaving his social network, or changes in health have made socializing difficult, you may become his main social outlet.
My Dad loved to chat with me near the end of my workday when I was trying to cram the last few lines into an email. My fractured attention made my emails sloppy and my conversation stilted. Now, dad and I have our chats in the morning over breakfast or while sharing a glass a wine on a Friday night. This gives us the emotional connection we both need while creating space for us to thrive as individuals.
When a parent moves in, life changes and a new chapter begins. Make sure to have the difficult conversations upfront. If your loved one is coping with a physical or mental impairment, make sure to educate yourself and create a support system. Check out this article for great information about San Diego home care resources. The Alzheimer’s association is a great resource for family caregivers and offers local support groups.
Remember, sharing a home with your loved one is a short season in your life and a gift you will never forget.