Grandparents’ habits are generally different from their teenaged grandchildren’s habits, which are in turn different from their own parents’ habits, and having so many people with different routines all living under the same roof can lead to tension.
Caring for your parents at home can be very rewarding, allowing parents, children and grandchildren, to draw closer together and alleviating some of the isolation that elderly parents might otherwise feel if they lived alone. However, members of extended families, especially primary caregivers, can become drained by a lack of privacy in such situations. So how can you maintain your privacy, and yet still enjoy the benefits of living together as an extended family? Here are some suggestions.
Make Sure That Each Family Member Has His or Her Own Physical Space
Consider the costs and benefits of adding a small apartment on to your home, perhaps above the garage or in the basement, so that your parents have their own living space. Can funds, either yours or theirs, be allotted for such a project? If you are not able to build such an apartment, can you ensure that your elderly parents will have their own bedroom, and perhaps a measure of personal living space, such as a bathroom or small living room? Many elderly are quite independent, and value their personal space as much as do the family members who care for them. Allowing them a room or two in which to place their own furniture, television, and other personal effects will not only allow you to have greater privacy, but will also help them to feel at home, and have a place of their own in which to unwind. If your home is small and you can only allow your parents a bedroom, try to allot other small spaces within the home for their use. Avoid having a parent share a bedroom with a child unless absolutely necessary.
Make Sure That Each Family Member Has His or Her Own Mental and Emotional Space
Even if they are living with their children, most elderly still value their autonomy. Allow them to live their own lives, and encourage them to pursue their own interests and spend time with their own friends. You as a caregiver also need downtime, especially if you are caring for both your parents and your children. In such situations, it is important to set aside time to spend specifically with children, so that they do not become alienated. Additionally, make sure that you schedule time for yourself! If possible, use respite care or call upon other relatives to help on a regular basis so that you do not become burned out.
Set Clear Guidlines
Before your parents move into your home, have a family conference to discuss the situation. You may feel some trepidation about having your parents live with you, but remember that it is likely that they have at least as many reservations as you do. Discuss potential issues, such as noise level, television viewing, visitors, and bathroom and kitchen use in advance. If your parents are able, will they help with babysitting? If so, how frequently will they help? How often, if at all, will they need rides to doctor’s appointments and other activities? How will meals be handled? Will you eat together, or separately, and who will cook? How late does each family member generally stay up at night, and how early does he or she get up? Establish definite routines in advance, and stick to them.
Sticking to such guidlines may be difficult if your parents have either Alzheimer’s or dementia, as they may lose their concept of appropriate barriers, perhaps forgetting to knock before entering bedrooms or bathrooms. If this is the case, talk with your parent’s doctor. Is any of your parent’s medication exacerbating the problem, or are there available medications that can lessen the problem? Can alcohol make the issue worse? Under such circumstances, arranging for regular breaks for yourself, by using respite or other care, becomes increasingly important.
In the end, making sure that both you and your parents have an appropriate amount of privacy will make the transition to a multi-generational household much easier for you both.