Moving in with the adult children

Are middle-aged adults ready to have their aging parents move in with them?

Sort of, but if the results of a recent survey are any indication, many adult children anticipate there will be some difficult moments – if, indeed, they’ve thought about it at all.

The survey was released this week, just in time for Mother’s Day. It was commissioned by Visiting Angels, an in-home senior care company with some 450 private-duty agencies across the United States, and provides a revealing snapshot of how adult children view their responsibilities toward aging parents.

The good news: Most of the survey participants (there were 1,118 respondents age 40 and over, three-fourths of whom were women) said they would do whatever it takes to look out for their parents. Nor were they motivated by hopes of an inheritance; three out of four said they would pay for a parent’s care out of their own pocket if necessary.

The not-so-good news: Most adult children haven’t spent much time thinking about any of this. In fact, almost three-fourths of the survey respondents said they didn’t have a plan for taking care of an aging parent. And about half had never even talked to their parents about the kind of care they want as they age.

This is no small issue. Middle-aged adults increasingly are caught between managing their own lives and caring for an older parent (and often looking out for their own children as well).

Some interesting statistics from a Pew Research Center report released in January:

– Nearly half of American adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent who is 65 or older, and about one in five provided financial support to an aging parent.

– The majority believed adult children have a responsibility to take care of their parents.

– Adult children are a leading source of emotional support as well as financial and practical help for older parents. Also, their responsibilities usually increase as their parents get older.

But as the Visiting Angels survey revealed, decisions about a parent’s living arrangements adds a whole new layer of issues. The survey found, for instance, that lack of room and lack of privacy were the two biggest concerns among adult children contemplating having a parent move in with them. Only 31 percent wanted their parents to move in with them, and four out of 10 said they preferred to have their parents remain in their own home with a caregiver.

The survey uncovered potential for conflict among siblings as well. When asked which of the adult children should have the most responsibility for Mom and Dad, here was the breakdown: Adult children who live closest to their parents topped the list, followed by the child perceived to have fewer other responsibilities, i.e. no spouse and/or children, and lastly by the child who was the most secure financially. (The survey didn’t ask whether adult children felt this was fair.)

In a final and telling statistic, close to half of the survey respondents anticipated some kind of conflict with a parent, a sibling or a spouse or significant other over decisions on how to care for an aging parent.

When recently posed the question, “Do you regret the decision to have an elderly parent move in with you?”, there were more than 200 responses ranging from positive to frustrated to outright at-the-end-of-my-rope.

“Yes, I regret agreeing to move cross country, leaving my good paying job and becoming primary caretaker for my father-in-law. God help me, I am so looking forward to this being over,” one person wrote.

Someone else lamented how her parents took over the family’s life after moving into a specially built addition to her home. “What I forgot when we decided to let them live with us is that they have never had a respect for our privacy and my father and I have never gotten along,” she confessed.

Yet another commenter was enduring sleepless nights, wondering whether to have her mother move in with her. “If she lives here our lives will completely revolve around her,” she wrote.

But then there were responses like this one: “I love having my Dad live with me… When I was a kid, he worked all the time, so I missed out on a lot of time with him. Now I REALLY know my Dad, and he is a wonderful man.”

Many adult children seem realistic about the issues they’re likely to face as their parents grow older, even if they haven’t thought too deeply about it yet.

But if the survey results, and the voices of those who’ve already been there, are any indication, adult children ought to start thinking well ahead of time about the what-ifs. Too often, decisions aren’t made until there’s a crisis and everyone’s emotions are running high, says Larry Meigs, CEO of Visiting Angels.

His advice: “You need to meet now with your parents and siblings to decide on a solution that appeals to everyone involved.”

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