Secrets to Successfully Sharing a Home With Senior Parents

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African American 3-generation family
Monkey Business Images /

No matter how much you love your parents, inviting them to live in your home is likely to create challenges for you and other members of your household.

Multigenerational living is increasingly common, especially in markets where housing is expensive, says Liliane Choney, executive director of ReVisions Resources, a San Diego-based nonprofit group that provides resources and information about successful aging.

Living with children can be a practical solution for seniors who are having financial problems or need support because of health issues, Choney told Money Talks News. It can also allow seniors to develop a closer relationship with their grandchildren.

Combining two or more generations in one home is seldom easy, however. What follows are eight steps to help you to make it work.

1. Have a meeting about household finances

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You’ll avoid many conflicts if you have a family meeting to discuss finances before moving your parents into your home.

“It’s a really tough conversation, but it’s an important starting point,” Choney says. “You are merging your financial assets. You don’t want anyone to feel taken advantage of.”

It’s important that you and your parents come to an early understanding about financial responsibilities. If you expect them to share in the cost of such things as your mortgage, utilities and groceries, they’ll need to know upfront so they can plan their spending.

2. Get clear about how much care your parents will need

Nurse with elderly woman.
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Before your elderly parents make the move, it’s important to determine what physical or mental limitations they may have. Do they need help with day-to-day activities, such as bathing or dressing? If so, you may need to hire someone to help out in your home. If they suffer from chronic illnesses, you’ll need to become familiar with their medications and care requirements.

“Most people underestimate the time it takes to care for an elderly parent,” says Amanda Lambert, co-author of “Aging With Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home.”

3. Be prepared to make modifications

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AARP, the advocacy group for people age 50 and older, recommends that you make sure you have adequate living space in your home for elderly parents. This may require some remodeling or repurposing of rooms so your parents have adequate personal space.

Making sure your home is ready for your parents is essential, says Choney. If they have difficulty climbing stairs, you’ll need to have a bedroom for them on the ground floor of your home. Will you need to install a wheelchair ramp on your front porch or modify a bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair? If so, you should complete this work before your parents move in.

4. Prepare your children for your parents’ arrival

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If you have children, they may have to make adjustments to accommodate your parents. For example, they may need to move their beds to an unused attic so your parents will have an easily accessible bedroom on the ground floor. They also may need to play more quietly in and around the home, if loud noise disturbs your parents.

Make sure your children understand the reason your parents are moving in and what will be expected of them. Talk to them about the good things that will happen because their grandparents are going to be living in your home. If you keep them informed and seek their input before making decisions that affect them, it will be easier for them to accept any sacrifices they’re asked to make.

5. Acquaint your parents with your neighborhood

Street scene in Cincinnati, Ohio
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Moving can be a disorienting experience for older folks. After you make your parents feel comfortable in your home, you’ll need to spend some time getting them acquainted with your neighborhood. If they’re moving from another community, they’ll need to connect with a new pharmacy, a bank and a new barber or hairdresser. If they’re religious, you’ll need to help them find a local faith community. If your parents use public transportation, make sure they know where to catch a bus or trolley. The more they know about your community, the more comfortable they’ll feel.

6. Evaluate your ability to get along

Angry woman wielding a mop.
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Not everyone should attempt to live with their parents. If you have a history of conflict, bringing them into your home may be the wrong decision for them as well as for yourself.

“You have to consider the possibility that you may not get along,” Lambert says. “There could be conflicts regarding privacy, expectations of care needs and household responsibilities.”

If one or both of your parents has mental health problems or addiction issues, your home may not be the best place for them to live. You can be of assistance by providing financial support or helping them find the care they need from qualified professionals.

7. Know your limitations

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Before taking on the responsibility of having elderly parents move in with you, chat with your spouse or significant other about how much time and effort will be required. No matter how much you may love your parents, you need to be realistic about the work you can handle. How much time you can devote to them after caring for your own family? If you have a busy career or children to raise, realize that the time you can spend with your parents will be limited.

“Are you prepared and willing to take time off of your job to care for your parents?” asks Lambert. “Do you have a backup plan if you are unable to continue to keep your parents in your home?”

And what if you are caught between two generations sharing your living space? Check out: “Still Supporting Adult Kids? 5 Steps to Set Them Free.”

8. Be aware that your relationship will change

Daughter looking at computer over the shoulder of her elderly mother.
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When your parents move into your home, prepare for a reversal of roles. When you were a child, they were in charge and you looked to them for guidance. In your new living arrangement, they are likely to become more dependent on you. You may need to provide guidance on day-to-day decisions they once made for themselves. At the same time, you need to allow them to act as independently as possible and respect their decisions. This can be a delicate balancing act that requires patience and understanding.

“As people get older and more frail, the person they will trust the most is an adult child,” Choney says.

How do you feel about combining generations under one roof? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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