Mom's Coming to Live With Us: How Should I Prepare My Family?

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Decades ago, having Grandma come to live with the younger generations was fairly common, and it often worked well. It did for my family. When my brother and I were teenagers and our little sister a toddler, our grandmother can to live with us. Grandma was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and could no longer live alone.

My parents built a house that would accommodate the different generations, with some privacy for all, and Grandma came to live with us. The home wasn't huge by today's standards, but it was nice and well designed for our needs. The arrangement worked.

One big reason it worked was that Mom did not work outside the home, which was common in those days, so there was nearly always someone home with Grandma. Also, I was a born caregiver and filled the caregiver's shoes for both my toddler sister and my crippled grandma – with joy. Alas, I didn't know then that decades of my life would be spent as a caregiver, but that is another story.

These days, having grandma move in with the family is still an option for some families, but it has become more complicated. First of all, there are fewer families with a stay-at-home adult in the home. This is where a great deal depends on Grandma's health. I know of one family where the dad is single. He has custody of his two young sons most of the time, and his mother has moved in. For the most part, Grandma is actually a help with the boys. Yes, she has her issues, and there has been some adjusting on all sides. But with Dad's odd hours and Grandma still fairly capable, it's a situation that works well for all.

At least for now. But, what if Grandma's health began to fail? What if Grandma was in mid-stage Alzheimer's disease? Would this still work? It might. If the whole family is well prepared, the arrangement could still be fine. In this instance, the kids are getting used to having their grandmother live with them while she is still quite healthy. That should help with the transition, as they grow older and Grandma grows more frail. There will be some switching of roles, I expect, as time moves forward.

How you would prepare for an elder to move into your home would depend somewhat on the age of the children, if any are still living at home. Also, it would depend on the elder's health. Should the kids expect that Grandma is in charge when Mom and Dad aren't home, or should they be taught that they will be in the role of caregiver? There's a big difference and this needs to be discussed with the family ahead of time.

Often, as in the case above, there is a single adult child with children when the elder moves in. Sometimes, of course, there is a marriage to consider. All of these dynamics should be acknowledged and openly addressed, preferably giving examples of issues that could pop up and throw everyone off kilter.

Dealing with Your Emotions When Living with Elderly Parents

To avoid emotional overload when an elderly parent moves in, first take a look at your historic relationship with the elder.

The relationship that existed between parent and adult child needs to be scrutinized. What are the motives for having the parent move in? My personal feeling is that if parent and adult child never got along, preparing for such a move would mean some therapy for the adult child to determine why he or she wants this arrangement. There could be a huge temptation here to try to force a relationship to work that never worked very well from the start. Is the adult child still trying to gain Mom's approval? That would, to me, signal danger. Is it guilt? That, too, would signal danger.

If, however, you always got along really well with your mom, and your husband and kids love her dearly, you may be simply doing what comes naturally. You want to take care of your mom, she needs some help, and having her move in with you is the next natural step.

If you work outside the home, then the day may come where you have to hire some in-home help to care for mom. For many people this works beautifully. Expectations, to me, are huge in this arrangement. If we go into it with our eyes open to our motives for wanting Grandma to move in; if we are realistic in what we are expecting to happen when we live together, then there is a better chance that everyone will cope with the changes fairly well.

Consider Everyone in The Home

If you desperately want your mother to come and live with you because she needs you, but your husband doesn't like the idea, it seems wise to me that you would hash this out before taking such a step. As with an adult child trying to create something good out of a relationship that never was good, some outside help with counseling prior to making a decision to have Mom move in would be a good idea. Maybe, once your husband knows how much this means to you, it will be okay. But talk it through thoroughly before making the change. Having Mom move in has the potential to destroy a frail marriage or family relationship.

Figure Out Finances When Elderly Parents Move in

Most caregivers dive into caregiving because they want to help. They don't always consider that this help may go on for years. And that it's not just about love. Having a parent move in with you can be a good move financially, for both you and the parent. After all, you are only paying for one residence. But another person means more expenses for food and utilities. It may even mean building on to a house or hiring outside help.

Figure out who pays for what ahead of time. Having the financial arrangement drawn up by an attorney ahead of time may be advisable. Then there would be fewer problems should the elder need to move to a nursing home and be placed on Medicaid. Records will make a big difference here, so if you start out knowing who pays for what, and have it written down, you are ahead of the game.

Have A Plan for Down The Road

Have a talk about end of life issues. The idea would be kind of like a prenuptial agreement. You aren't saying ahead of time that this won't work, but you are being realistic that the day may come when your elder needs more care than you can give. Find out about care options, such as hiring someone to come into the home to help. However, know ahead, that the day may come where your elder will need 24-hour nursing care.

Plan for what you consider the best, but know that the outcome may not be as you wish. Live a day at a time, but have realistic ideas about what you can do for your elder. Know you may need help. Then, if you, your family and your elder are all at least somewhat compatible and have plans in place for backup care, go for it. If planned for realistically, the arrangement could work out very well. It did for my family.

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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6 Comments

As we know social skills can make or break a person in life .It can be a wonderful experience for the children to have grandparents in the home to reinforce those skills. Learning to respect others starts early . . Even if the grandparent has Alzheimer Disease, children learn to tolerate differences and be helpful. Bringing in grandparents to care for can be a win win situation for all in the family. I loved having my grandmother stay with us. She had plenty of time for stories and listened to me share my day. She had tea parties with me and played games with me. My mother liked having another pair of hands to fold clothes , snap beans, and many other little jobs since my mother worked outside of the house. She appreciated having a built in babysitter who reinforced the rules of the house. Grandma loved all of us unconditionally and we all were so sad when she died. She did know it all and even more than she shared with us. I often think that my parents attitude toward caring for family influences my attitude toward caring for them. I see and am so proud of my kids having the same caring attitude toward their elders. The old saying is true. "It is not what you say but what you do that makes the difference."
It obviously depends on the personalities of all involved to make things work when an elderly relative comes to live in. My mother-in-law is living with us now after having lived by herself (by choice) very independently for 50 years. She values privacy and has always been very conservative and somewhat introverted. She doesn't show a lot of emotion and keeps things very close. It is hard to tell when she is feeling bad or what she is feeling at all because she doesn't express it outwardly. With a person like this, it is very hard to have them living in your home. She is a very gracious person, but after 50 years of relative solitude (I don't know how anyone could do this) living in a community which did not have much to offer in the way of social activities, living with us is a huge step. Even at 95, I know she thinks that she will return to her house to live by herself without much human contact. Unfortunately, she is less and less able to care for herself and returning to her home (a few hours away from us) is just not feasible. Anyway, I think people make a choice to be involved socially; you can't really force it on them. In the end, to be involved socially, or be friendly with family and involved with them is a choice that stems from their basic personalities. You can't just say: you need social activity; they will usually reject that if they are not used to it.
Don't do it.