It’s difficult to pinpoint how many aging parents live with their adult children, but there is certainly a lot more interest in this type of arrangement now than there was a decade ago. Part of the reason for this increase in multigenerational living is the economy. It’s cheaper for two families to live in one house than for each to have a separate home. I believe another significant factor for many adult children is that it seems easier and cheaper for us to care for our aging parents personally than it would be to pay for in-home care or consider a move to assisted living.
Of course, delicate care decisions like this one aren’t only made based on financial reasons. 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. Furthermore, many people are distrustful of hired caregivers. This may be because providing hands-on personal care is such an intimate task and because troubling stories and bad experiences with professional caregivers have been circulating for years. Together, these feelings can make the idea of parents moving into an adult child’s home seem like the best solution for all involved.
Respecting an Elder’s Desire for Independence
While popular opinion seems to be that most aging parents would jump at the chance to live with their adult children, that isn’t necessarily so. Less than a third (31 percent) of seniors 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 percent) of adult children expressed willingness to have an older parent move in with them when they could no longer live on their own.
The bottom line is that 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. Seniors, too, want to continue making and following their own rules and routines. The idea of living together, no matter how well you get along, can be disconcerting for both parties. The intimacy of shared living space can simply be too much of a good thing.
Most seniors want their children to call and 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 kids. Living in the same household can be a huge challenge, where defining one’s physical and emotional space becomes as intense and disruptive as living with a teenager who is pushing the limits of demonstrating their own independence.
Not every senior wants to live with their adult child, but when the other options are costly and involve a new living environment and unfamiliar aides providing personal care, moving in with a son or daughter often seems like the more appealing and less permanent choice. At the very least, research intergenerational living, read stories from fellow caregivers who have gone down this road, and explore alternatives like senior living and in-home care with your loved one to weigh all available options.
Should Elderly Parents Live with Their Children?
Countless members on the AgingCare Caregiver Forum who are living with their elders have written in to express the hardships they experienced and disappointment they felt due to this decision. In fact, I wrote an article to address the growing number of caregivers who found themselves in this situation: Living with Elderly Parents: Do You Regret the Decision?
From a moral standpoint, many people believe that aging parents should have the option to live with their adult children. But, intergenerational living isn’t guaranteed to be successful by default just because everyone is family. It requires careful planning. Many families jump right into moving in together only to face the uncomfortable ordeal of telling their parents that the arrangement isn’t working and looking for alternative options. Adult children often end up feeling stuck and unhappy in their own homes, which is terrible. Thorough research and candid conversations about this arrangement are crucial.
If a family chooses to go ahead with this plan to live together, they should work together to lay down ground rules for everything from financial responsibilities to privacy concerns. Of course, the situation is somewhat different if a parent has dementia or is facing the end of life. Cases like this pose unique challenges of their own. For example, a parent with Alzheimer’s disease cannot be expected to reason with you when it comes down to respecting house rules and participating in chores and other household duties. If a loved one is facing the end of life, then it is very likely that this living arrangement will be temporary yet very emotionally intense.
However, if you are looking at a long-term arrangement, realize that several adults (and children, if you are a sandwich generation caregiver) living in the same home can create a great deal of tension. Assess your own motives for pursuing this idea and make sure they aren’t rooted in guilt, fixing childhood issues, or earning Mom or Dad’s love and respect. Living together will only work if the arrangement is made for the right reasons and the personalities fit well enough that conflict won’t be a daily occurrence.
Making the Right Care Decisions Is Hard
Each elder and family dynamic is different, so it’s challenging to predict what setting an aging loved one would prefer and whether everyone could cohabitate well. Some seniors adamantly refuse to leave their own homes and demand that adult children come to them to personally provide their care. Some are open to services like in-home care and Meals on Wheels to help them retain their independence in their own house. Others are eager to move into an independent living or assisted living community to enjoy their retirement with limited responsibilities.
But the option always lingers for elderly parents and adult children to move in together. When both caregiver and care recipient live under the same roof, it reduces drive time back and forth, makes it easier to respond to accidents at all hours of the day and helps keep costs down. However, it’s important to remember that this decision does involve both financial and personal costs. Utilities and food costs will increase, complete privacy may be in short supply, thereby affecting your relationship with your spouse, caregiving responsibilities will multiply, true respite will be difficult to come by, etc.
Lastly, most families have not lived together in decades. Therefore, anyone who is considering multigenerational living must communicate their expectations for the arrangement and set rules and boundaries beforehand. When several people who are not used to living together begin sharing the same space, things can go south very quickly.
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 and your loved ones can decide. Just give the move serious thought so you aren’t stuck trying to find a way out of a bad situation later on.