Do Parents Really Want to Live with Their Adult Children?

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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 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.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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40 Comments

I moved my father in my home after my mom passed. And yes, it was out of guilt. I wish I would have talked with someone or had this website to help me before I made that decision. Recently, my dad stayed for 5 weeks in a nursing home for rehab. He actually had no complaints and the home is very nice. But, of course he's ready to "come home." Looking at it now, I think he would have been fine and comforable in that nursing home and I would have less stress and regrets. We also would probably get along better if I was just visiting him a few times a week. I've committed myself to stick with my decision, but I hope others will not do what I did unless they are totally sure!
Sorry to say, I am strongly opposed to nursing homes and always will be. My mom's desire was and is not to go to a nursing home. A friend of mine worked for a law firm that went after nursing homes so I know of their mess and abuse. I won't do that to my mother. I realize there are good and bad nursing homes, but the cost is too much.

Only here in the US do we believe that our elderly are disposable, we put them in a home and then visit when it is convenient in our lives.

I know I am the opposite on here, but I feel that my mom deserves far more respect than a home. My mom does not have the ability to live in assisted living because she is unable to walk.

My mom years ago said she didn't want to live in a nursing home and I made the commitment then. I know this is the hardest job I will ever have, but my mom took care of me when I was small and raised me, the least I can do is care for her.

Sorry but this article does not explore cultural differences. If we were to look at other countries, it is automatic that they take care of their elderly in the home.

The fact is one has to decide what is right for them and what they can live with. I know that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I put mom in a home and that is my choice.

Everyone has to make their own choice but one must remember we have to look ourselves in the mirror and we have to live with that decision. Always remember how do you wanted to be treated when you reach your parents age?
None of these type of decisions are easy for all involved.

For many, having a parent go into IL, AL or NH has never been done in their family so there is a fear of the unknown factor.....NH = snake pit. For us, my maternal grandmother went into a NH back in the 1960's, my paternal grandmother in the 1970's. So me & my cousins grew up visiting the Nana's at a facility and viewed it as a normal situation, just another phase & way of life with on the spot medical care & therapy. Interestingly 2 aunts and 1 uncle went into my mom's mom's facility (which had expanded into AL and IL duplex's & apts),1 went into IL and then hospice and the other 2 went into the NH from living at home and my mom went into an affiliated tiered facility for IL. I don't think any of us considered having our parents live w/us as we grew up thinking of a IL/AL/NH as a positive situation.

The other aspect of living with your elder is financial. In talking with the children of residents @ the 2 NH my mom has been in and in speaking with gals who are dealing with what to do with mom, it seems that many women have moved in with their elderly parents or the parents have moved in with them and they financially find themselves dependent on mom &/or dad's monthly SS and retirement. I'm sure this happens to men too but it seems to really hit women more as we are expected to be the caretakers. This site regularly has posting along the lines of....."my mom has entered the NH and how am I supposed to pay for things now that all her $$ goes to the NH". I think for many it's the situation where you have to take care of mom because you have to have mom's $$ to live on, not because you especially want to be their caregiver. Like being stuck in a bad marriage. This is an awfully stressful situation to find yourself in and not the best situation for optimum care for the elder. With the economy being what it is and American's general lack of saving and planning for the future and knowledge of how long term care works, this type of situation will only increase. Not pretty.