How do you know when it’s the right time to move grandparents to live near your family? Do I want my parents or in-laws to live with me? A visit is one thing, moving in brings the commitment to a whole other level. Moving grandparents away from their home feels so permanent. I’ve known for years that one day we’d likely have conversations about moving grandparents to live with us. Even before we were married we were having conversations about moving my soon-to-be mother-in-law in with us.
Hesitations and concerns about moving grandparents to live with us
My husband had grown up with his grandma and his mom in one house. In their family it was culturally normal. I, on the other hand, was more hesitant. As a newlywed, was I truly ready to have my mother-in-law live with us? What about leave and cleave? If my mother-in-law lives with us will I feel like the third wheel?
Not to sound ungrateful. We’d talked about my mother-in-law moving in with us for over five years. I’d given up that it’d ever be reality. After all, she is one determined lady who is one of the most stubborn people I know. She had to be. Considering her history, when she had her accident at age 19 she had to relearn everything. Her mom was determined that she would learn to live again, so she pushed her hard and she refused to be labeled as disabled. She has been living with a traumatic brain injury for over 50 years.
Is it right to force aging parents to move?
Like everyone, she’s getting older and she could benefit from having more support with her health. I’ve always just assumed there would come a day when her son would have to tell her, “Mom, I love you. I need you to trust I have your best interest in mind. I need you to move closer to me so we can help you.”
We’ve been encouraging her to consider moving closer for awhile now. We are her only family asides from some relatives she hasn’t even been able to see for holidays unless she can hitch a ride with a friend. For five years we’ve been encouraging her to move closer. However, she has been resistant.
Aging parents don’t want to be a burden or to give up independence.
Grandparents recognize that as they age the may physically need more help. They don’t want to feel like a burden. My mother-in-law always says, “I don’t want to interfere or change your ‘perfect little family.’”
Grieving lost opportunities with grandparents.
Recently one of my grandparents passed. Grief is an interesting thing because I mostly grieved the lost opportunity of getting to know her. For a variety of reasons I’d only seen her a handful of times throughout my life. She would send birthday and Christmas cards when I was a child. I don’t have any memories of being able to play with her.
Even though I could have traveled to see her when I became an adult, I didn’t.
Then, when I wanted to visit her, COVID-19 restrictions at her care facility dictated that I couldn’t. Her passing has caused me to grieve some the lost opportunities I feel my children have.
We don’t live in the same state with any of their grandparents. Trips to visit grandparents are rare. Flying with kids after they don’t qualify as lap children is expensive. Taking the extra time off work to drive is difficult.
When I shared with my mother-in-law how I was grieving never getting to spend time with my grandmother it seemed to strike a cord in her. My mother-in-law’s traumatic brain injury affects her reasoning capability. Want to know more about how this impacts daily life? Read her story and how that affects her daily life. So, I was shocked that somehow this resonated with her.
“What do you look like Grandma?” – why having long-distance grandparents for young grandchildren is hard
My four year old often asked her grandma, “What do you look like Grandma?” She hadn’t seen her since she was just under 2 and we were still able to fly with her as a lap child. We have tried to Facetime or video chat with Grandma, but often it’s only voice phone calls or letters that are our touch points. I’ve created guides for doing video chat, but after two hours trying to coach how to make a capital letter for the password, and not being successful I often give up and we just have to try a different day. My four year old’s constant questions asking who grandma is made Grandma question her stubbornness for staying in her home state.
Should aging parents live near family?
I’m glad my mother-in-law didn’t move in with us during our first years of marriage. My husband had wanted her to because he worried about her being so far away. He felt bad that she was living all alone. He was asking her to consider moving before we even said “I do.” I’m sure if she’d moved in with us during our first years of marriage we would have made it work. I knew whenever she did move in with us, there wouldn’t be a real option to say we made the wrong choice and she needed to move out again.
Five years ago he pleaded with her to consider moving in with us within a couple of years time. He knew she’d need some time to process and consider moving. Moving grandparents in with you isn’t an overnight decision, there are certainly pros and cons.
Helping grandparents process moving away from their home
Of course she has many friends there who will be mutually missed. This move will take her across the country and away from older friends who don’t travel themselves. While she can stay connected via phone calls or letters with her friends, we recognize that not getting a weekly cup of coffee or a meal together will impact most of her friendships. There may be a grieving period around the move, grieving changing relationships, grieving not being able to easily visit favorite places. It’s important to let moving grandparents grieve as they need to. After all, as they get older, they end up having to say goodbye to more friends anyway, a physical move may expedite some of these goodbyes.
Give moving grandparents permission to grieve.
Help them create a list of people and places they need to grieve. Help them take pictures or sentimental pieces that will help them process the grief. It’s normal for anyone to grieve when they move or experience change.
Moving provides an excuse to downsize while someone is still living.
Encourage aging parents to identify which possessions of theirs have sentimental value. Often throughout life physical possessions multiply over the years. When anyone moves, it’s a easy time to consider downsizing. When moving grandparents, encourage them to make a list of the items they really want to keep. Things that are broken and no longer useful can be donated or thrown away.
Why moving grandparents mutually benefits both the young and old living together
Years ago and in some cultures, it’s very normal to have multigenerational homes. Children are so full of life and energy. This life is contagious! The grandchildren naturally want to include grandma in their daily life and they are constantly moving and staying active, so naturally grandma is encouraged to move more than if she was just living alone. In the first month of grandma living with us she is already feeling much better because the kids are keeping her active, physically, emotionally and mentally she is doing better being in the presence of our family. These are changes she couldn’t see and often those who are living with depression can’t see there is hope beyond the darkness.
Elderly have so much to offer from their life experiences.
The elderly have lived through more life than their younger counterparts. Sometimes as they age they feel the younger people think their experience is irrelevant. We all have something we can learn from others. In our situation, as a homeschool family, having Grandma live with us allows her to help quiz our children on what they are learning. This reviews the content for her at the same time. Moreover, during mealtimes our children are able to see how adult conversation flows. Our children are invited to ask grown-ups questions with a desire to learn.
Children can help dementia in aging populations
Evidence shows having children interact with aging populations who are suffering from memory loss from dementia or Alzheimer’s can help. The Growing Season is a film produced about this very concept where a care home and a day care facility are in the same space. I recognized this even in our own family when I brought my baby to meet one of my grandmothers who had advanced dementia. When we walked into her room she was mostly just sleeping and her remarks seemed to make little sense. However, she knew the sound of a baby. As soon as she heard the baby make a sound she said, “What’s that? Is that my baby? I’ll take care of you, baby!”