Six years ago my father passed away from kidney failure. He'd been ill for a long time. Fortunately, he had all his faculties up until his last breath. But in the midst of his passing, my two brothers, my sister and I had to decide what would happen to my mother. This type of situation becomes more common for people my age who have children on one side and parents on the other. We are called the "Sandwich Generation."
Coming from a close knit family, I could not see having my mother live in a retirement community forever. It seems so impersonal. However, when my father passed away and their home seemed far too big for just one person, my mother courageously downsized (again), putting all of her worldly possessions into the confines of a one-room apartment. And when I say "one-room", I mean one-room including the kitchen, living and bedroom. The bathroom was the only room with a door.
My husband and I discussed the possibility of remodeling in order to make room for her. We had three children of our own taking up plenty of space with only two bathrooms. So within a year we started remodeling to make an "in-law" suite. What I learned and hope you will consider if you are in this situation is how the dynamics in a household can change and what you should look out for. To be quite honest it is like having an older child move in with you. Albeit a much older child. But your parent no longer needs to be your parent once they move in. That part is critical in my opinion.
1. What are the options. First, talk to all of the siblings to discuss each of the options. Perhaps it is possible to have the parent spend a season with each child/sibling. Or if the parent is relatively healthy and young, it may make sense for them to remain at their home a while longer. But at what point will it become necessary to consider having the parent move in with a sibling or retirement community? It's best to bring that out in the open.
2. Retirement community vs. moving in. The retirement community environment can be a great place to meet new people and have a wonderful new social life. However, as I have learned from my mother and my friend's parents, they are surrounded by people their age who are aging and have health issues. No sooner do they make new friends when one of them becomes ill and even dies. The reality of the circle of life is palatable. It can cause depression and anxiety. This makes the option to move in with a child more appealing. They will have younger people surrounding them, more activity that makes them part of the family.
3. Who's the Boss? The hardest thing for the elderly parent is finding their new role in life. If they move in with a child who is in their 30s, 40s, 50s they have to remember they have lives of their own and are often parents themselves. So the critical question is, "Who's the boss?" The elderly parent is no longer the real parent under that roof, they are no longer the one in charge any more. If a heart-to-heart conversation does not take place about the role of each person under that roof, it could result in a catastrophy. Before moving someone in, be sure you have this conversation. Test drive the potential situation by having the elderly parent live with one of the children for a week or more. Be open and discuss what you each feel at the end of the test period.
4. Expenses. There will be new expenses if an elderly parent moves in. To avoid resentment by any of the siblings, all finances need to be out in the open. To avoid the burden on any one person a monthly plan should be developed to equitably distribute the financial responsibility.
5. House Rules. If the elderly parent is getting up in age, house rules may need to be established. This can include the restriction of cooking appliances to avoid burnt pots and pans (or worse), and at the other end of the spectrum, the grandchildren need to respect the noise level and dangerous toys left on the floor that the grandparent might trip on. Driving restrictions may need to be implemented as well. Having a new teen driver in our household is not unlike that of having an 83-year-old driver under the same roof. It's uncanny.
These are a few of the more major areas we experienced. While it is a rewarding and wonderful thing to be able to move a parent in, it is not without some potential pitfalls that can be avoided when done in an open and honest manner.
What first hand advice do you have in this situation?