Moving in Together
When we detect vulnerability in our loved ones—whether physical, medical, emotional, or financial—we often want to rush in and fix a problem or protect them. We worry about falls, sudden illnesses, loneliness, whether they are eating properly, are able to manage their bills and finances, and many other issues, real or perceived.
At this point some decisions will have to be made: Do I invite my care recipient to move into my home? Or is it best if I move into theirs? Either way, it’s going to be a big decision and not one to be taken lightly.
Whatever you decide, it will probably have an impact on everyone involved, so it will be a good idea to proceed with caution. We've created a short list of things to think about before making the final decision. You should find this helpful whether your care recipient is a parent, other relative, or friend. Click any of the words in the list below to be taken to that section on the page.
- Care considerations
- Home adaptations
- What if it doesn't work out?
If you decide to live with your care recipient, it’s important to have clear and honest communication. If you have a history of good, open communication, it’s more likely your new living arrangement will be a success. But what if the relationship hasn’t been open? If the parent has always chosen the wishes of their adult child over their own, or if the adult child has sacrificed their needs to keep peace in the house, there could be tension. Are you being realistic or do you have idealistic notions about how this will work day to day? Have you talked over the possibility of the move with other family members? Do they see pitfalls where you don’t? Perhaps information on starting a difficult conversation could help you begin.
If you decide to move in together, it would be a good idea to plan monthly or even weekly household meetings to talk over any problems that come up. You need to practice good communication skills and honestly address any problems or issues that need to be dealt with.
You may want to put a contract or agreement in place to make sure everything is clear on both sides The agreement should be written in language everyone can understand. It can include an updated will, power of attorney, personal healthcare directive, or advance care plan. Make sure to share this agreement with family members so that you aren’t accused of taking advantage of the situation.
One important conversation will be around boundaries. You might want a private space for each of you. Your bedroom could be your ‘off limits’ place where you can escape the demands of caregiving, even if for a short time. You might want to have boundaries around your time. For instance, you might want to ask there not be any demands until after your first cup of coffee in the morning. You might want to set boundaries around care. These could include the kinds of tasks you are and aren’t comfortable with. For instance, personal or continence care. You might want to decide who will do the cleaning, cooking, and laundry. Your role is to help your loved one stay independent and an active member of the household. It’s not your role to become ‘the hired help’. There might come a time when you have to exercise your relationship boundaries. This sometimes happens at end-of-life when palliative care providers might be needed. In that case, your only role will be as the loving daughter, son, spouse, or partner in your loved one’s final days.
You’ll need to think about how any kind of move could affect the other important people in your life. How will a move affect your relationship with your spouse? Will you set time aside for the two of you to connect as a couple emotionally and physically? As your loved one’s condition progresses, how hard will it be to make your spouse a priority? What plans are in place for care when you go on holiday or need to be away for a while? Will a sibling step in or will your loved one agree in advance to Facility-Based Respite?
If your loved one moves in with you, it would be a good idea to have conversations with children and young people who live in your home. Everyone’s thoughts and feelings about a possible move need to be taken into consideration. It can be hard for children to imagine what this change might be like, so maybe you could create a few scenarios, some positive and some negative, and talk them over.
- What if the new housemate is bothered by loud music?
- Will you be expected to give up activities to spend more time with the care recipient?
- How will it work when your friends come over?
- Is there a special project you could work on with your loved one to share time together?
Either move could affect your relationship with your spouse or siblings, especially if it’s a parent who moves in. You could become the leader/driver of care and decision-making. The best time to talk about how siblings will stay involved in your parent’s life is before the move. You should talk over things like what you can expect in terms of support, whether respite, financial, emotional, or hands-on care.
Having your care recipient move in might also affect your job, as well as relationships with your boss and co-workers. If you need to take time off to take your care recipient to medical appointments each month, will your boss understand? Will your co-workers be sympathetic and cooperative if your work hours are adjusted? The Working Family Caregiver: Tips for Balancing Caregiving and Career and A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations are useful guides that can help in these circumstances.
The demand for care will increase as your loved one ages or their condition gets worse. Now is the time to take an honest look at your lifestyle and decide what you might have to give up. Our Where to Begin guide may be helpful in this task. You might also want to think about how their medical condition is expected to progress and what will happen if there’s a health crisis for your loved one or yourself. Is there a Plan B if you aren’t able to look after things anymore?
Your loved one might move into a spare bedroom in your home or you might take over a space in their home. It could be a suite, a granny flat attached to the house, or a detached tiny home or granny pod in the yard. Everyone needs a place to go where they can have privacy and withdraw from the busyness of the house. You might also think about how the home can be adapted to meet rising care needs and a loss of independence.
When you move in together, you’ll probably have to think about how meal choices will be made, who will do the cooking, and when meals will be served. Many seniors eat dinner earlier in the day, and some must do so because of their medication schedule. You might also want to talk about how family traditions such as Sunday Supper or sushi night could be affected.
If your loved one can’t travel even short distances independently, what kind of effect will a move have on your freedom to come and go? Friendships and a social life are both necessary for good health. Will a move cut your care recipient off from their social relationships and activities? Will you become the taxi? If your loved one has moved in with you, will they be able to entertain and meet with friends privately at their new home? If you have moved in with your loved one, will you have the same opportunity? What transportation options are available?
Ideally, home renovations and adaptations should be done before the move. It’s a good idea to think about your loved one’s current needs, and what they’ll need in the future. Is it possible that either home can be renovated to meet those changing needs? Who will pay for it? If your loved one pays for renovations and you own the house, how does that work with sibling inheritances? What if your siblings contribute to the cost of renovating the home you’re moving into? What are the terms of that agreement? You might want to look at other financial options in Renovating to Age in Place.
Your loved one might be moving in with you or you in with them because they can’t afford to live on their own anymore. It will be important to talk about how the household finances will work. Will there be an agreement on monthly rental or shared expenses? Whatever agreement is reached for renovations or rental, it’s a good idea to have things in writing. Once that’s done everyone involved should sign the document in front of a witness and be given copies for their files.
If you’re going to be managing your care recipient’s finances, you might want to set up a system for reporting to siblings or others involved. That way there’s transparency and accountability, and everyone knows what’s going on. This can be as simple as a shoebox of receipts or it could be on a spreadsheet. You and your care recipient might want to agree about this before the move.
What if it doesn't work out?
What happens if living together isn’t working out. Maybe your loved one isn’t happy with the move or maybe your kids are miserable about restrictions on noise and when they can have friends over. Now what do you do?
Before your loved one moves in you should work out Plan B. Even having Plan C or Plan D could be advisable.
You might want to start out with a trial period of a few months. If possible, you might want to keep your loved one’s residence, or your own, for a while after the move just in case it doesn’t work out. Here are some things to consider:
- Can you afford it? If so, for how long?
- Is it possible to rent or sublet the home or apartment?
- What are the rules related to insurance coverage for a vacant house?
- Who will check on the house or apartment to make sure the furnace is still working and the plumbing didn’t freeze?
- How often will that person check in?
- Could your loved one return to their home if they had a higher level of home support?
- Is there another sibling who is ready to take their turn at caring for your parent?
- What are the wait times for Residential Care Facilities or Nursing Homes?
- Is senior’s housing or assisted/supported living a viable next step if this arrangement doesn’t work out?
- What are the wait times for Residential Care Facilities or Nursing Homes?
- Is senior’s housing or assisted/supported living a viable next step if this arrangement does not work out?
This could be a wonderful opportunity to deepen your relationship with your care recipient but you must exercise boundaries for your own health and well-being.
This is different from visiting your parent a few times a week and doing some chores for them. The requests might come day and night now and there’s no rest period when you are ‘off the clock’.
Build time into your plan for you.
Ann Marie Mecera says in her article This is what happened when my parents moved in, “While giving care to both live-in parents, I frequently put unrealistic expectations on myself, trying to be the ‘perfect’ daughter by meeting their every need. I have to be extremely intentional about maintaining a healthy balance.”
Schedule regular activities and plan for extra help when your loved one's care needs start to increase. This might be the time to call on that neighbour who offered to help. The Helper Sign-Up sheet from our Caregiver Stress Management workshop can make it easier to accept the offer of help and define what it is you would like them to do. Keep the list of tasks on the fridge door and ask them to sign-up for one of them. You can use this sample sheet and blank sheet as a guide/template.
You may find some helpful tips in this Multi-Generational Living video series from Home Instead. Each of the episodes is listed below. Please note that there are some American references.
Part 1 - Multi-Generational Living
Part 2 - Determining if this is the best option
Part 3 - Emotional issues to address
Part 4 - Enlisting support
Part 5 - How to prepare your home
(CAPS professionals are not available in Canada)