Making Room for Mom or Dad: The Emotional Transition of Having a Parent Move In

Coming to terms with the loss of independent living is tough for many seniors, so moving in with an adult child can seem like a major upheaval, not just physically, but also emotionally.

In some cases, the older adult embraces the move, happy to have the close support and companionship of other family members. In other situations, the change evokes feelings of resentment and tension.

“In between those two poles of the spectrum lies everything you can think of, where older adults have kind of a mix of feelings,” says Barry Jacobs, a psychotherapist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. “They are glad to be there, but they recognize that their presence in the home may be changing the workings of that family.”

Open communication, clear expectations and the avoidance of social isolation will help ease the emotional transition.

Talk about the move well ahead of time

The most successful outcomes occur when the parent, adult child and other family members have discussed the idea of a move long before an illness, accident or other crisis forces the issue.

“There are some situations where it works out very nicely,” Jacobs says. “It’s kind of tacitly understood that when the parent gets older and will need more help, they are going to move into the child’s home.”

Aging in place – at home – may be mom or dad’s first preference, and the conversations might start with how to make that feasible. But you also need to talk about contingency plans that may include moving in with you if they can no longer live by themselves.

Make sure everyone’s expectations are clear

Before mom or dad move in, do a clear assessment of the level of personal care they will need—and whether you, another family member or an outside professional will be primarily responsible for that care.

“Sometimes parents move into an adult child’s home with a sense of entitlement, expecting to be cared for in a way that the adult child has no interest in providing,” Jacobs says.

Early on, establish a family decision-making process that everyone can agree on, and approach any conflicts that arise with a spirit of flexibility and a commitment to working things out together.

Help create a social network

As Mard Naman writes in Caring.com, one of the biggest adjustments your parent may have to make is being apart from his or her friends and community.

Sometimes the aging parent’s sense of loss and isolation can become so overwhelming that it leads to depression. Signs like the parent becoming suddenly irritable, withdrawn or behaving in other uncharacteristic ways may be cause for further evaluation, Jacobs says. If you’re concerned, discuss it with them and their primary care doctor.

To help your parent feel less isolated, Naman suggests seeking out a nearby senior center or adult daycare facility that offers social interaction and cultural activities like art classes and museum trips. Meetup.com offers lots opportunities for people of all ages to connect in person with those with similar interests. From bird watching to wine tasting, its a great way to introduce your parent to a community.

Just as with the physical and logistical aspects of the move, preparation makes all the difference when it comes to making a successful emotional adjustment.

“The more conversation that takes place before the move, the more planning that gets done, the better these moves usually go,” Jacobs says.

Do you have a parent or older relative living with you? How have you handled the transition? 

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