Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Assuming a parent wants to move in with you

When your parent or aging loved one gets to the point of needing more daily support to live well, do you assume they will be moving in with you or a sibling? I’d like to discuss this scenario by imparting to you a true story I was recently told. 

Meet Suzanne and Bob
Suzanne* decided that she was going to renovate her basement so that her father, Bob*, could move in with her. Her father had been living alone in his home ever since her mother—his wife—had died last year. Suzanne knew that he was a bit lonely and that his house was becoming increasingly difficult for him to maintain. She and her husband were finding it hard to help out because they lived almost two hours away. Moving her dad in with her seemed like the perfect solution to Suzanne. Bob could have his own living space in her home, as she could convert her basement into an apartment with its own little kitchen and bathroom. While Suzanne moved forward with the renovations, she suggested to her dad that he temporarily move into a retirement residence near where he currently lived until the basement was ready.

Once the renovations were completed, Suzanne was very surprised to find that her father didn’t want to move into her home, but instead wanted to stay in the retirement residence! He had become good friends with the people he ate dinner with every day and had also found that some of his longtime friends from his neighbourhood were now living at the retirement residence, too. For the first time since his wife died, Bob was playing cards and taking day trips. He was really enjoying his new routine and his new chapter of his life and didn’t want to give it up.

A common assumption
After over 30 years working with seniors and their families, I’ve found many of my adult children clients assume that as their parents get older they will want to move in with them. Often, they are surprised to learn that the parents would prefer to continue living more independently, as Bob did. 

Why might this be? If an adult child lives in another community, moving in with them may also mean leaving the area a parent is familiar with. This means a change in doctors, service providers and less access to longtime friends. Sometimes it also means the only social contact an older adult has is the adult child and their family. This can put pressure on everyone! After all, most parents and adult children live fairly independently from each other throughout most of their lives, even when they have excellent relationships. 

Over time we all develop a routine or rhythm to our lives. Moving to a retirement residence may require someone to shift their routine, but fairly quickly most people adapt because they are still able to make their own choices in this independent living arrangement. In contrast, when someone moves into the home of an adult child and their family, they usually feel the need to adapt to the family’s routine. Simple things like the temperature of the home or how they start their day may be quite different than what the older adult is used to. This can make a parent feel they have lost the ability to direct their own lives. 

It’s a wonderful thing to care so much about an aging parent that an adult child would want them to move into their home. However, there are lots of things to consider before making such a move, including considering other options like retirement living. 

Although Suzanne was surprised her father opted to move in permanently to his retirement residence—and although she’d gone through renovations!—she was very glad to see him so happy. She felt that his quality of life was much better than it had been since his wife had passed away. Suzanne knew that in the retirement community there were people around if he needed something and that he was very safe. One of Suzanne’s concerns about moving her dad into her home was the fact he would be alone all day when she and her husband were at work. They also had plans to travel in the next few years, and Suzanne worried about leaving her father alone for extended periods of time. The retirement residence ended up being a much better solution for everyone. 

*Name changed for privacy