Nighttime soap operas of the 1980s gave a glamorous, intrigue-filled picture of extended families residing under one roof. Of course, the shared roofs in Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest covered multi-winged mansions where feuding siblings, siblings-in-law and grandchildren could retreat to their private quarters to scheme and recover from real and imagined slights.
Today, economic, medical and logistical challenges often bring once-dispersed family members back to the family homestead, and that homestead usually doesn’t qualify as a mansion. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show a lot of “coming home” activity in the average-sized houses that populate American neighborhoods. An estimated ten percent of adults in their early 30s lives with one or both parents, and the number of 20-somethings living at home is almost 25 percent. Add to that equation the 65 million unpaid family caregivers—usually baby boomers—who may choose to take a “live-in” approach to helping elderly parents in need, and you’ve got plenty of challenges.
And it’s the sandwich generation caregivers who, after a divorce, job loss or housing crisis, find themselves living with increasingly needful parents, plus teen or young adult children who have their own challenges, who may be the hardest hit.
So how can this forced togetherness result in a livable situation for all involved? Here are a few suggestions:
Communicate essential needs upfront. Seniors who find their empty nests suddenly repopulated should resist the urge to turn the clock back twenty or thirty years. Your 50-year-old daughter doesn’t need a curfew, or to be told how to do the laundry. Likewise, prodigal sons and daughters, your parents’ lives and preferences have changed. Their abilities have changed. Discuss household needs, chores, and schedules. No one should assume that the washer and dryer will be available for a last-minute load, that someone else is taking care of dinner, or that Grandma can pay for a utility bill that’s double her usual fare. Once a general understanding has been achieved, have regular family meetings to go over new appointments, schedule changes, chore distribution and financial issues.
Be adaptable. When any group of people live together, compromises must be made. Those with the greatest need—say, the family matriarch who has a doctor’s appointment or the teen who has a big exam—should get top consideration from others in the house. That said, all involved should be willing to give up some personal customs and privacy. Your usual long, hot morning shower may end up being a quick bath before bed. And your love of anchovy and black olive pizzas may have to be indulged sometime other than family pizza night.
Stay calm and resilient. Keep your expectations, egos and feelings of guilt in check. Grown children, though well intended, may assume the role of “parent” and threaten the dignity of seniors who don’t feel, or don’t want to feel, like they need a caregiver. And, moving back home for emotional or economic reasons can make adult children feel like failures. Keep tender feelings in mind when dealing with housemates and try to express the love and caring you have for one another.
Get more advice on planning for senior care.
Remember that this situation is likely temporary. Handled properly, living under one roof can be a positive experience and provide a great example of caregiving for the younger generation. What at times may be a stressful and aggravating situation can also be a source of lasting memories that will be treasured for years to come.
Jody Gastfriend, LICSW, is the VP Senior Care Services at Care.com