If you’re like most family caregivers, you probably made a promise to your parent(s) years ago that you would never place them in a long-term care facility. You assured them that you would be the one to see to their care no matter what. After all, that’s what family does, right?

However, when it becomes clear that one or both parents need an increasing amount of assistance, many adult children find themselves in a delicate situation. Those who take the time to think through this decision are often plagued by questions and what-if scenarios. How much help does Mom actually need? Is Dad just lonely living by himself? How are we going to fit the in-laws in our home? Will the kids still have enough space? Would assisted living be a better option? Should we move in with them or build an addition onto our house? The list of present and future concerns is extensive.

Regardless of who moves in with whom, the decision to cohabitate with aging parents is a serious one that affects all relationships within a family, careers, finances, and the physical and mental health of everyone involved. For some, the arrangement works out fine. Two or even three generations residing in the same home can be a good thing. It works best when there is plenty of space so that everyone has some degree of privacy, when there is respect for one another, when there is plenty of cooperation and when respite is built into the arrangement from the beginning. Adequate planning beforehand is crucial for success.

Unfortunately, reality bites. Many families are forced to make knee-jerk decisions following a health setback. Some parents simply show up on their children’s doorsteps ready to move in. Others may find themselves trapped in what was supposed to be a temporary situation while devising a long-term solution. While I do not have any statistics, I think it’s safe to say based on the correspondence I’ve received from caregivers and the posts I’ve read in the AgingCare Forum over the years that things may start off okay, but they steadily go downhill for most families. Adult children end up feeling hemmed in by the promises they made, by the financial needs of the entire household and by guilt.

How Caregivers Can Make Changes

What is a caregiver to do when they find themselves struggling with their living situation? A lot depends, of course, on the background and details surrounding one’s unique arrangement. Most caregivers embrace living with and caring for their parents because they want the best for them. They take on the responsibility out of love and/or need. Some caregivers move in with their parents because they were in a troubled spot themselves, trying to provide for children, following a divorce, recovering from a financial or career setback, etc. Sadly, another subset of caregivers have been stuck in this cycle for years with an abusive parent and they just don’t know how to get away.

Guilt can be a significant obstacle for many, regardless of the specifics. You feel an obligation to make this work, but dementia or just plain stubborn, unsanitary or inconsiderate behavior on the part of your elder(s) can put a strain on your life. If you’re feeling trapped in an unhappy situation, it’s time to let go of the guilt and make other arrangements. It’s time to acknowledge that you did your best and explore your options, whether it is adult day care or in-home care for respite or moving your loved one into assisted living, memory care or a nursing home. If you are living with your loved one, it’s time to extricate yourself from this situation and look for another place to live.

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This is far less complicated if you have the ability to move out, but all too often caregiving negatively impacts one’s finances. Unfortunately, greater financial security brings more options. You may need professional assistance to get everything straightened out. Federal, state and local programs may be able to help you get back on your feet and become more financially independent. The sooner you get the monetary aspect resolved, the sooner you will be able to set your plan in motion.

In some sticky situations, you may need an elder law attorney to help you see this change through. Legal counsel can be expensive, but state legal aid is a useful resource. Ideally your loved one got their affairs in order before you began caring for them. This includes power of attorney documents (hopefully naming you as their agent), a will and the like. Power of attorney (POA) is especially important in this scenario. If your loved one is incompetent, and they did not name a POA or you are encountering difficulty using these documents, you will need legal help to obtain the authority to make decisions on their behalf. This includes deciding where Mom and/or Dad must live in order to receive the best possible care. If your loved one is competent and refuses to move out of your home, you may need to consider seeking legal assistance to evict them. In many instances you will need to contact social services for help determining alternate living and care options for your loved one.

It would be wonderful if someone could wave a magic wand to make Mom well, get you a good job so you could move out, repair your marriage, or have your kids totally understand the confusing nature of the situation. But that’s not realistic. Perhaps, you can still cohabitate with your elder with the addition of outside help, or perhaps you just need to get out of the mess you are in. Whatever the case, living in a situation that everyone hates is not doing anyone any good. The only way out is through. That involves anxiety, work and determination, but you can do it. It’s the only way your life will change for the better.