We live in a time when families no longer all live a short drive from each other and many of us moved away from our hometowns long ago. Everything is great, thanks to technology and you are able to maintain your relationship with your family from a distance. Between visits, calls, social media and web chats, you are constantly connected. But what happens if your parent is widowed and in need of not just care, but time with family to heal?
The first reaction many of my clients have had was to move their mom in with them as soon as possible. Of course, it is easier to move your parent to you than to move your family to them, particularly if you and your spouse have not retired. Initially, it is great to move your parent in with you, but after the dust settles and the novelty wears off, it can pose challenges for everyone.
Who is in Charge?
It can be difficult to settle into new roles when you’re all under one roof. You’ve each lived many years running your own household, and even though you’re related, you may run your households differently from each other.
Set some ground rules early to reduce resentment. This is particularly important if you have children in the home. You will need to agree on who is able to discipline your child and how to go about disagreements. Its one thing when you are together for a short visit and your mom goes over your head on a parenting decision. If you are living together, it can undermine your role as the parent.
Try to keep the roles as they always have been – grandparent/parent/child to reduce frustration and confusion.
Your mom may also feel uncomfortable not being able to contribute to the household. Work together to find ways that she can contribute to running the home that don’t conflict with how you like things done. Did your mom enjoy making family meals on Sunday? Re-start the tradition. Is there a task that your mom enjoys that you can pass on? I love folding laundry. It feels relaxing to me. If I suddenly didn’t have to do it anymore and had someone doing it for me, it would feel weird. I would feel awkward having my laundry done by someone else. By the same token, I hate doing dishes, so if someone wanted to take that off my plate, I’d be thrilled!
Making Mom Feel at Home
I had a client who moved in with her daughter after her husband passed away. While the mother was happy to live with her daughter and the daughter never intentionally made her mother feel like it wasn’t her home, she didn’t feel at home. She was frustrated when there wasn’t a cooking tool she needed that she had at home. She was frustrated that they lived far from stores and public transportation, making her feel trapped. Obviously, her daughter couldn’t move the house, but she did find simple, affordable transportation options for her mom and tried to make her feel more comfortable in the home.
How can you make your mom feel at home? Stock the kitchen with tools that she uses, even if you have never been much of a cook. Make sure she has her own private space and that her privacy is respected. Just because the room is in your home, doesn’t mean you can go into her room whenever you want. Pick up some amenities she likes. My friend’s mother moved in with her family a few years ago. Her mom enjoys drinking a beer in the evening when she watches TV. My friend and her husband prefer wine over beer, but they purchased a small mini fridge for the den and stocked it with her mom’s favorite beer, which is what she had at home.
Build a Social Network Outside Your Own Family
I think the biggest mistake I saw families make when they moved their parent home with them was to assume that time with the family would be enough social interaction. In many cases, the parent not only lost their spouse, but their home, neighborhood, friends and local family when they moved in with them. That’s a lot of change at once.
You can’t give them back the things they’ve lost, but you can help them re-build in their new community. Look into the resources in your area to help them find their place. If your family belongs to a church, look into a senior group of volunteer opportunities that would be appropriate for your parent. Encourage them to join their local senior center, and better yet, if the senior center has a grief support group, encourage them to join. Meeting other people who have suffered the same loss will help with their healing. Did they enjoy taking classes at home? Look into options in your community and through your local community college.
If you are at work all day, think of how much time she will be sitting home alone in your empty house. Loneliness can lead to poor physical and mental well-being so it is important to help set your mom up for success by establishing a new social network.
Too Close for Comfort?
Multi-generational living isn’t for everyone. I’ve had clients complain about living with their children and grandchildren as they were used to quiet and the house suddenly felt very chaotic. I’ve also had adult children complain that their parent is constantly undermining their parenting decisions, causing problems with their spouse and children.
You don’t need to live in the same house to be close to each other. If you don’t have the luxury of a mother-in-law suite, is there an apartment complex nearby where your mother can rent an apartment? I had a client who preferred living in an assisted living facility near her daughter because while they all got along really well, she was a very social person and was bored spending 8 – 10 hours a day alone. She had made friends in the neighborhood, but they only saw each other a few times a week. She moved into an assisted living facility and arranged nightly happy hours, movie nights and shopping trips with friends she made in the building.
There is no one-size-fits all for moving your parent closer to you. You’ll need to do what’s best for all generations of your family. The most important things to remember are to be respectful of each other’s needs and make sure that you set yourselves up to succeed.