Caring for aging parents – Do I build a Granny Pod?

I don’t want to be a burden.

“I don’t want to be a burden.” It seems to be the anthem of aging parents. More families caring for aging parents are considering multigenerational living situations. Even before we said “I do” we were discussing “should my mom move in with us?” In our family we’ve talked about having my mother-in-law move in with us for years. Here’s what we’re doing to prepare for the transition so it will be sweet, not sour, to have Grandma close.

Caring for Aging Parents

For many couples the discussions about caring for aging parents probably isn’t a real conversation until well into the marriage. However, for us these conversations started when we were still only engaged. We discussed how one day we’d probably have my mother-in-law live with us because she has a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that prevents her from being able to reason cause/effect. Her traumatic brain injury also gives her short-term and long-term memory loss. She can’t remember most things from before her TBI and also can’t directly recall many recent events.

She has other health issues that are becoming increasingly more difficult for her to manage alone, including lymphedema and arthritis. We live in different states. For many doctor appointments she either just goes alone and tries to remember to call us from the appointment (so we can help remind her the questions she had and what the doctor said), or she asks a random friend to go with her. She used to have a cousin who went with her to every major appointment, but the cousin has since passed away. Therefore, we have been encouraging her to consider moving to be closer to us. In the meantime, we’ve been supporting her as long-distance caregivers for her medical appointments.

I don’t want to be a burden.

Where has this perspective originated from? Is it the propaganda of companies convincing our aging adults that they must remain independent and autonomous or else they burden their children or society?

I don’t want to be a burden. Should mom move in with me? Questions to consider when planning how to care for aging parents.

Fear of being a burden: It’s been my mother-in-law’s main hesitation to agree to even come visit us, let alone move in.

In some cultures this was completely normal to have extended family living with a nuclear family. Today in America considering the option of shared space tends to be more of a drawn out discussion. Families are meant to care for each other. Nursing homes and social safety nets are relatively recent inventions.

Reasons my aging mother-in-law hasn’t wanted to move:

  • ”You have your good life with your little family and your kids. I don’t want to interfere.”
  • “I don’t want to ever be a burden on you. You have so much to do already.“
  • ”I have friends here. This is the area I’ve always lived. I don’t know anyone there.“

Reasons I’ve told her she should move in with us:

  • We want her to have a life full of joy and good memories. She won’t be here forever so why not make great memories with the grandkids?
  • We think being around kids brings more life and can encourage our spirits. It’s better than living alone with only a couple of fish. (Her companion dog, Alice, passed away last year.)
  • We recognize her health is declining and we think we can help by going with her to appointments so we know how to help with treatments.
  • I don’t have many memories with each of my grandparents, I hope my children can have more memories. I think it can be selfish in some ways to say that living independently across the country is more valuable than giving grandkids memories of grandma.
  • As a family it’s quite expensive and difficult for us to travel to visit then at best it’d be only for a couple of days each year instead of every day making memories.
  • I don’t think she’d actually be a burden. Worrying about her living in a state without reliable support is more stressful than adjusting to having her in our home.

Only have her move in if the Lord gives you the grace for it. Know that once she moves in she’s permanently part of your family and you won’t ever “kick her out”. Remember, sometimes our parents live longer than we expect. So, she could live until your children are grown.

– Helpful advice I received from my dear friend Anne who had traveled this road with her mother-in-law

4 elements to remember when considering caring for aging parents:

  • Set clear priorities.
  • Be united with your spouse.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Set clear priorities.

Caring for your own marriage must take priority over caring for aging parents or even your own children. I’m not saying to abandon anyone, rather, have your priorities clear. For us, this means if my mother-in-law moves in with us, we’re committed to budgeting for weekly dates. After all, we’d love to have weekly dates regardless of who is living with us, but this becomes even a bigger priority when we’re living in a shared living space.

Our priorities are: 1) invest in our marriage, 2) our children, 3) caring for aging parents. Depending on the relationship you have with your family maybe you’ll order your priorities differently.

Be united.

Ultimately the decision has to be a “we want” you to come live with us choice. If we aren’t unified about if she should live with us or about boundaries our marriage could suffer.

Set boundaries.

Imagine what life might look like for a multigenerational living situation and set clear boundaries from the beginning. Boundaries can always be adjusted later. Having the clarity up front will help make sure it’s a sweet, not a sour experience.

My mother-in-law is a loud, extroverted, Italian grandma. I’m more of a quiet, reserved and somewhat introverted person. I enjoy socializing, but when it’s quiet in the afternoon during nap time, that’s when I recharge. Knowing about our different personalities I can see how it could potentially feel overwhelming living more than a few days in the same space with my mother-in-law.

She means well, we’re just different.

I know she’ll need daily places she can get out and go to socialize. Or, perhaps even if she’s living near us, we need to build a granny pod for her in our backyard.

Our plan for caring for aging parents is that while my mother-in-law is visiting and living in our current guest room we will evaluate what our corporate and individual needs might be. We’ll have it set up so she has her own bed, recliner and TV so she can do her normal in her own space. I’m sure we’ll have talks too about trying to adjust bedtime some so she at least goes to her own room when I need to put the children to bed because my kids have FOMO (fear of missing out).

She can do her normal in her space.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Establish a spirit of open communication early on. Address conflicts and don’t let them fester.

Recognize all of you are coming in to the experience with different fears and expectations. You may not even realize what the other person’s perspective is or possibly even your own fears or expectations. Asking for the daily grace needed is so important. We all mess up and unfortunately hurt those we desire to love the most at times, so be quick to ask forgiveness.

Plan for the emotional adjustments of caring for aging parents as well as the practical logistics.

Use these questions to prompt discussions about the logistics:

Congratulations! In many ways you might be gaining a new roommate. No matter your season in life, having some basic logistical conversations when starting a new living situation is helpful. Use this list as a starting point. Feel free to add other questions specific to your family situation.

  1. Will there need to be a shower schedule so no one has to have a cold shower?
  2. How will household supplies be purchased, will it be all on the grown kids or will the aging parents contribute to some bills?
  3. Will we share groceries? Is there adequate space to store everything? Where is the community shopping list to make sure needs are communicated?
  4. What happens to all of the furniture and material goods from the current residence? If household items are going to be stored, what is the timeframe before reevaluating keeping the items?
  5. Share common goals and desires. Ask what each person’s needs are in the arrangement. Make sure everyone, including the grandkids, has their voice heard.
  6. Which meals will be shared as a family? Is there a set time for meals? If you won’t be at a family meal, when do you need to tell the person cooking? Does grandma and grandpa feel like they need an invitation for every meal? Is the basic understanding that grandma and grandpa are included in the family meals and activities unless otherwise stated?
  7. Being a responsible, contributing member of a family is important. What does contributing look like for your aging parents?
  8. Who will do dishes and help clean?
  9. Are we doing laundry together or separately?
  10. Will grandma be doing most of the day’s activities with the family or will it be more just a lodging arrangement? Ultimately you are family, so most likely you want it to feel normal like family, not like having a guest who you need to entertain or plan around.
  11. Who is an introvert and who is an extrovert? How does each person need to emotionally recharge?
  12. What love language speaks best to each individual family member?

Moving your aging parents is a big change. Prepare accordingly and give extra grace in the seasons of change.

Caring for aging parents and any change takes time.

Recognize that any transition or change takes time to adjust. Studies show people willingly accept change in 10% increments. So, major changes, like leaving everything they’ve ever known for 70 years to move in with their grown children may be met with major hesitation. Sometimes we don’t even know what our needs are before we’re in the situation. My grandpa used to advise us to never make rash decisions. Especially for big life decisions he encouraged me to take several months to figure out what we actually need to do. Research doesn’t mean you have to act immediately. Simply gathering the information about different housing options is helpful. If needs change, you’ll be prepared.

Research doesn’t mean you have to act immediately.

For us, we’re researching housing options including: moving our family to a larger house with a dedicated mother-in-law suite, doing an addition at our current house to build a mother-in-law suite, or a granny pod in our backyard along with simple changes to our existing home to help our aging parents have privacy. We know it’s possible we will just feel too smothered and need to help her find a nearby apartment as well. Furthermore, we recognize that needs may change over time. In my mother-in-law’s case it’s possible she’ll one day need dedicated memory care, we’ll cross that bridge if it comes but we want her to be present with our family as long as possible.

We’ll know more of these answers after she comes to live with us for awhile.

When you think about caring for aging parents, what are your concerns or emotions? What questions are you considering before you have aging in-laws or parents live with you? What are the pros and cons in your situation?
Are you currently in a multigenerational living situation? What tips do you have to share with other families?
Comment below and join our community discussion as we learn more about doing life together.

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