While the numbers of aging parents living with their adult children don't quite signify a trend, there is certainly a lot more interest in the arrangement than a decade ago. Part of the reason for this doubling up of households is the economy. It's cheaper for two families to live in one home than for each to have a separate home.
I believe a significant factor for many people is that our aging parents need care and often it seems easier and cheaper to care for them in the home than to pay for caregivers to provide in-home care or to consider a move into assisted living.
Naturally these decisions aren't only made because of economics. Most of us have at least a little of the "we take care of our own" mentality. Our parents took care of us, and likely their own parents. Now it's our turn to take care of them. Also, many people are distrustful of hired caregivers, either because of horror stories spread through decades or because they've had a friend who has had a bad experience. Together, these feelings can make the idea of the parents moving into the adult children's home seem like the best solution for all involved.
While popular opinion seems to be that aging adults would jump at the chance to live with their adult children, that isn't necessarily so. Less than a third (31%) of those surveyed for a Gallup & Robinson research project on aging and quality of life said they would live with a younger family member when they could no longer live on their own. By contrast, more than half (51%) expressed willingness to have an older parent move in with them when they could no longer live on their own.
Most of us want to be independent. Children, if they are mentally and physically healthy, generally separate from their parents as soon as they are financially able to do so. They no longer want their parents laying down the rules. Adults, too, want to make their own rules. The idea of living with one's adult children, no matter how well you get along, can be disconcerting. The intimacy of shared living space can simply mean too much of a good thing.
One strong memory I have about intimacy in caregiving is that my mother-in-law, who was an intensely modest woman, didn't want any family member helping her bathe. She preferred the detachment of a "nurse" figure for her intimate care – someone who is friendly, but not too close. I'm not so sure that basic premise doesn't hold true with many elders. They want their children to visit. They want their children to do certain things to help them. But they don't want to feel that they are entirely dependent on their children. Living in the same household can be an emotional challenge, where defining one's physical and emotional space becomes as intense as teenagers wanting to show their independence.
What happens if you try it and it doesn't work?
In the Agingcare.com article Living With Elderly Parents: Do You Regret the Decision? I responded to the many people on the Agingcare.com forum who are living with their elders and regretting the decision to do so. The main point I addressed in the article is that people need to be very thoughtful about trying intergenerational living. If they aren't careful, they will, like many of these families, face the uncomfortable ordeal of telling their parents that the arrangement isn't working and then looking for other options. Many people end up feeling stuck. So, a clear-minded, judicious thought process before the move is necessary.
If people choose to go ahead with intergenerational living, they should mutually lay down ground rules for everything from financial issues to privacy concerns. Of course, if you are moving a dying parent or a loved one with late stage dementia into your home, the situation would be different. In that case, you may be filling a gap in care, or simply want to have your parent close for his or her last few months of life.
However, if you are looking at a long-term setup, realize that several adults living in the same home can create tension. Don't bring your parents into your home to live long-term if you are trying to fix former childhood issues by proving yourself to them. Also, think carefully about whether guilt is the underlying reason that you are asking them to move in with you, or if you are buckling under pressure from them to do so. Living together will only work if the arrangement is made for the right reasons and the personalities fit well enough that tension won't be a daily companion.
For some people, it's absolutely the right thing to do. For others, it's not good for the adult children or the elders. Only you can decide. Just give the move serious thought so you aren't stuck trying to find a way out of a bad situation.
Author, columnist and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack wrote "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories" and is the moderator of the AgingCare.com community. Read her full biography