Living with Elderly Parents: Do You Regret the Decision?
You did it, didn’t you? You promised, long ago when your dad died, that you’d take care of Mom and she’d never have to go to a nursing home. You promised Mom – after her visit to a nursing home, one of the worst in the state, to visit a friend – which she’d never have to go to a care facility of any kind.
No, you would always take care of her. After all, she always cared for you. Or, even though she wasn’t a very good mother, and you never really got along, one cares for one’s own, right? Or, your mother was pretty healthy and doing okay and you were divorced and trying to take care of two children, so you moved in with your mother. She cared for the kids for a while, but then began showing signs of strange behavior. You feared for your kids, your mother and yourself. “What have I gotten myself into?” You thought.
Many people are facing the fact that their sweet intentions have taken a sour turn. Certainly, for some, the decision to cohabitate with their elders works out fine. Two or even three generations residing in the same home can work. It can work when there is plenty of space so that everyone has some degree of privacy. It can work when there is respect for one another and a place to go when one has had enough family time. It can work when there is plenty of cooperation, planning beforehand and even some respite care for the elder, should that be needed.
Reality bites. For the vast majority, things may start off okay, but they steadily go downhill. People feel hemmed in by a deathbed promise, or a promise made to a parent who was once in good health. They feel hemmed in by the financial needs of all generations. They feel hemmed in by guilt.
How Caregivers Can Change Their Living Situations
What do you do when you are in such a situation and want to get out?
A lot depends, of course, on why you are in the situation in the first place. Most caregivers intend the best for the people they are caring for. They don’t go to classes to find out how to navigate the elder care system, the financial burdens, and the Medicare and Medicaid mazes. They take on the responsibility out of love and/or need. Or they are in such a state themselves, with dependent children and no job or money that they move in with a parent – even an abusive parent – and don’t know how to get away.
If you are in a sticky situation, but one where finances have been kept separate and a lot of planning and forethought went into it, your main problem is guilt. You promised to make this work, but dementia or just plain stubborn behavior on the part of the elder, is putting a strain on your marriage. It’s time to let go of the guilt and make other arrangements. It’s time to acknowledge that you did your best, and now you will, promise or not, talk with the elder and explore options such as assisted living, or if necessary, a nursing home. You lived up to the spirit of the promise. You tried. Now, it’s time to move on.
However, if you are in one of the stickier situations; one where you went into it in good faith, but the mingled living patterns and money patterns have become a financial and emotional nightmare, you may need legal help to get it straightened out. An estate attorney or elder attorney may be needed. I know, that’s expensive, and in these cases the cost may prohibit hiring your own attorney. You may have to go through state legal aid. But if you are in this type of situation, you need professional help to sort through the options – financial, legal and moral – so you can continue to provide a positive caring outlook without the strain of caring for an aging parent with more demanding medical/financial needs than you are equip to handle. Remember, you are not alone and there are wonderful communities that are here to help care for your aging parents and programs to help families just like yours in managing your parent’s financial affairs.