Should Mom Move In With You?

Three realities to consider before saying yes.

Asking mom or dad to move in is something most of us don’t think about until we have to. 

Sometimes the catalyst is a health or financial crisis. Sometimes it seems like the best option. Or your only option. Almost always, it feels like the right thing to do. Even when you have doubts.

But before you start moving furniture, take a lesson from M.P. Dunleavey’s account of her family’s experience:

“If Dad moved in with my brother and sister-in-law, he’d have support and care; we’d be able to focus on getting our son from high school to college; and my brother would get a little extra income. A win-win-win!

“So why didn’t things go as planned?… Turns out that despite our best intentions… we were woefully unprepared — like many other well-meaning, middle-aged “kids” who take in a parent.

“We plunged into this massive life transition… without doing any research. We just trusted our very smart brains and big hearts to know what to do… My advice: Don’t do that.”

What are well-meaning, middle-aged kids like us missing? Here are a few realities that are easily overlooked:

Caregiver Shock

It’s easy to underestimate how adding another adult to the house — who happens to be older and brings their own baggage and expectations — and who happens to be your mother! — changes things. 

Just ask Steve and Marta Burcham, who built a new home to share with Marta’s 85-year-old mother:

“There’s no privacy in the house,” says Steve. “The air conditioner’s always a battle: I like to keep it about 70 degrees; she wants to keep cranking it down lower.”

Other sources of conflict: whether to leave TVs and radios on and whether to leave dishes in the sink for later. “It’s one thing to love your mother,” says Marta. “It’s another to move her in after you’ve been married 20 years.”

Caregiver shock is common. It happens when unexpected consequences knock the wind out of wishful thinking. 

If your spouse never got along with your mother — or you never got along with your mother, what makes you think things will be different?

Who Pays for What?

If you’re thinking of asking mom or dad to move in with you, there’s little doubt your heart is in the right place. But don’t let your heart keep your brain from taking a hard look at the financial consequences. 

Start by talking with your parent about their finances. This conversation may not be comfortable, but it’s not optional. 

You need to know what resources, if any, your parent can contribute towards necessary home safety modifications, or the addition you’ll need to build for an in-law suite, or an ADU in the backyard

Who is paying for what, and where is the money coming from to close any gaps? You also need to be clear about who pays for the everyday expenses that add up, like groceries. 

This is not a do-it-yourself project, so consult an experienced financial planner or CPA. There are a lot of moving parts, and you’ll want expert help to understand what’s possible, what isn’t, and how to avoid pitfalls.

Plan B

If you’re lucky, dad is in relatively good health when he moves in and everyone is able to make it work. 

But things can change — and quickly. Worsening health and cognitive conditions can make staying with you unsafe, or overwhelm your ability to provide the care and support he needs.

“Whatever age or stage your parent is in, remember that you’re not in an upswing here,” writes Dunleavey. “You’re signing up for an inevitable decline. So give some careful thought about how to pace yourself and your family — and start making Plan B.”

This is why it’s important to get a professional assessment of your parent’s health. 

Understanding your parent’s healthcare needs and how those needs can change will help you anticipate how those changes will affect you and your family. 

This is especially true if you’re worried mom or dad may have cognitive issues or have been diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s

Asking a parent to move in is a major decision for you and your family. So ask yourself the tough questions now. Gather the facts, run the numbers, and evaluate your options before you have to do it under pressure.

The more realistic you are about your situation and what to expect, the more prepared you’ll be for the predictable challenges.

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Thanks for caring,

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