Back to the 50's: Senior In-Laws Move in With Their Baby Boomer "Kids"

Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 9/29/2010

My friend, Nancy Vest, shared her thoughts about the decision she and her husband made to bring his parents (pictured below)  to live with them more than twelve years ago 

My in-laws are 90 years old. They have lived with my husband and me for 12 years in an “in-law” apartment that was built as part of our home. We thought long and hard about whether Baby Boomers like us--we don’t have kids and we live pretty independent lives-- would mesh well with my husband’s aging parents, the four of us under one roof. Has it worked well?  Absolutely!  Has it been easy all the time?  Absolutely not!  Would we do it again… read on.
First of all, if you’re considering relocating your aging parents in your home, I recommend that you think seriously about it and plan ahead if you decide to do so. Intergenerational living has its challenges. Most of us Boomers have parents in their 70s, 80s or 90s.  It’s said that these elders are “Traditionalists”; in my opinion, that’s pretty accurate.
They’ve lived through some very hard times, and they’re accustomed to putting off gratification.  They know what it is like to weather WWII and the Great Depression. This sounds obvious and simple, but when you are actually living together in close quarters, consider how your Boomer mentality and lifestyle will be challenged by this very different world view.
So what does this really mean at ground level?  It means that when you splurge on an expensive dinner out, or tip 20% instead of 10 (!), or buy that fabulous designer suit you’ve been anxiously stalking for the perfect markdown at Nordstrom, there could be some critical fallout. “I’m a grownup,” you may be thinking. “This is nobody’s business but my own!” I can say from personal experience that the first time you find yourself sneaking a recent purchase into the house so mom and dad won’t see it--and yes, you’re over 50!--you may feel pretty silly.
Plan for some privacy!  Please repeat after me:  Plan for some privacy so everyone will be happy! My in-laws have a private entrance, kitchen and laundry as part of their living quarters. If they want to watch Shirley Temple movies at maximum volume, or embark on a Cosby rerun marathon all weekend long, that’s cool.  I can go upstairs and turn on “Dancing with the Stars” or “Modern Family,” and all is well--though I have to admit I love to visit them when “The Andy Griffin Show” is on! 
Through the years, my in-laws have gone from being very independent to needing much more help and care. I’ve known these wonderful Scandinavians since I was a young girl—I actually met my husband’s family when I was just 13!  It’s hard to see them decline.  Ours has been an incredibly rewarding and sometimes very challenging living arrangement for us all, but most important, it has definitely been a wonderful solution in many ways.
“I’ve just won $10,000 dollars”! Last night when we were having dinner upstairs, we got a call from my father-in law, Willard.  “Please come down here right away! I think I just won 10,000 dollars!” There are so many scams out there targeting the elderly. This one was fairly harmless, just a come-on to sell air filters, but it was a terrible disappointment to Will.  I was glad we were near to explain. 
Last week, Will got a telephone call just as I was walking by his oor. Since he always answers on speaker phone with the volume turned up to the max, I overheard the conversation. A scary, automated voice info rmed him that he would be wired $50,000 dollars as soon as he sent several hundred dollars to release the account. Once again, I was glad I was there.
Physical and emotional support, shared caregiving duties and financial considerations all are good reasons to move in together. My husband and I perform different caregiving roles when they’re needed, but we also have hired in-home care from Home Instead Senior Care to come in twice a week to help my mom-in-law, Beulah, with some of her personal care and home upkeep as well.  And yes, I work for the company.
This kind of assistance is a godsend for all us.  It helps my in-laws to continue to be more independent, and it also allows them to retain necessary dignity and control in their lives. For example, my mom-in-law needs help with a shower now, and she gets it from her beloved caregiver, Jean. This saves us all the discomfort of having to assist her with very personal care, and she maintains her dignity.
Home Instead Senior Care has launched a public education campaign  that includes resources to help families determine whether merging households is a good idea. If families decide to make the big move, Home Instead provides a helpful guide that covers the emotional, physical and financial aspects of intergenerational living, with great tips to make the arrangement work.  There’s a special calculator to help families compute the cost of living together versus maintaining separate places.  This is really useful if you are in the early stages and trying to decide what living arrangement is best.
Helping my in-laws, now more than ever, takes a lot of time and energy. Health crises have been far too frequent in the last year. Missed work, endless doctor appointments, emergency calls in the middle of the night--they can accumulate and cause some real exhaustion and burn-out.
Is it harder or easier the way were doing it than having to run to another city or town or location to help our seniors? My view is that I’d rather have them right downstairs where we can be accessible quickly. Especially when it is 10 degrees below zero at 5:30 on a snowy Minnesota winter morning!
What about stress on a couple’s relationship? For the most part, my husband and I have grown closer because of our shared goal of making sure his two wonderful parents stay well and safe at home with us. Having separate space helps a lot too. But be prepared for this reality:  There will come a time when the elders’ needs will come first.  For us, we are okay with that for now. It is a trade-off we gladly exchange for the company of two beautiful souls we care about so much. 
Have I mentioned what we get out of all this? There aren’t enough words to describe the exhilarating scent of a warm, home-baked apple pie waiting for you when you come in from a stressful day at work--my mom-in-law is a remarkable and generous cook!--or the joy of sitting with the folks on a sunny afternoon reminiscing over a pot of tea. When was the last time someone called you and your husband “The Kids”? Well, I know that feeling, and at my age it ain’t all bad.
Ultimately, we give to each other. Time, concern, caring. This goes both ways. And if it is a little uneven in the balance of things right now, well, that’s part of the
privilege of taking care of parents who have raised us, nurtured us, and loved us so well.
Would we do it again?  Absolutely!  Without reservation.

Many thanks to Nancy Vest
Community Services Representative
Home Instead Senior Care
Cell. 612-272-9501
Office- 952-929-5695
Fax- 952-929-2032
Home Instead Information


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1 Comment

    • Sep 30 2010, 10:09 AM Dodie A.
    • What a remarkable perspective. Thank you for sharing this. It is such refreshing example of family, with its challenges and joys.

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