Sharon (not her real name) left her community of twenty-five years to move 1500 miles to a new town, new state, and different culture ( New England vs. Texas). This move was because her daughter insisted on it. Her daughter had her reasons; her mother was developing dementia, and since she lived alone there was no way the daughter could be confident that everything was okay with mom. The only way that she could manage was to have mom nearby where she could check in on her. It’s completely understandable. Nonetheless, I feel sad for Sharon who was taken from her familiar and comfortable life.
Did she have to go? Probably. I don’t know how bad the dementia was. But it got me thinking about whether if Sharon had already had a home-mate with whom she shared housing, would she have been able to live in it longer? Who knows. Living in shared housing can provide many benefits for seniors, including the ability to age in place and have help in the home.
What I do know is that having someone at home could be one way to comfort far-away children who might otherwise worry about mom or dad. A trusted home-mate provides another set of eyes and ears, as well as the assurance that someone is there in an emergency. Children are less likely to push for relocation to their own area or into assisted living if they feel that their parent is safe and able to take care of themselves.
Seniors themselves may find that they they are more comfortable aging in place when there is someone else who will notice if the stove burner has been left on or can find where the keys were mislaid. There are many more good reasons to share housing.
A home-mate is not a caretaker.
But a home-mate is not a caretaker. A home-mate is a person who shares the home and has an independent life. While home-mates may help each other out, it is a reciprocal relationship where each gives and receives. A caretaker helps a person who is otherwise not able to take care of themselves. Caretaking is a job. It requires someone to be present at specific times to do specific things, such as preparing a meal or helping with dressing. Moving someone in to be a housemate with the intent of having them be a caretaker is hiring a caretaker. Sometimes these relationships work out wonderfully. Sometimes the expectations of the two parties don’t match and the relationship does not work.
There are shared housing programs where housing is provided in exchange for a low level of caretaking, such as driving to doctor’s appointments, shopping and meal preparation. These shared housing programs match vulnerable seniors who want some help around the house and have space they can offer in exchange. The arrangement is contracted at the outset with clarity around types of tasks and the amount of hours that are expected. The shared housing programs provide support and mediation should any issues arise. (It would be great if every county in the country has this sort of program. But that isn’t the case.)
When is it too late?
Occasionally I get calls from adult children who are hoping that they can find a housemate for their parent. Unless there is a matching program they can access at the point, if the child is doing the work for the parent it’s most likely too late to have the sort of home-mate relationship I think is possible.
It’s the parent who has to do the work because the work is essential to the relationship. Figuring out who you are and what you are looking for, and writing an announcement are steps that prepare one for the transition of shared housing. The selection process of responding to inquiries and interviewing start building the relationship and the contract about how the two people will share housing. The parent has to be an active participant in the process. If the child does all that work without the parent’s full cooperation and involvement, there is ample room for the parent to resent and reject the new presence in their home.
Much better, so much better, is to make the decision to share housing long before any need to have another person around shows up. At that early stage there is energy to do the work and adjust to the new shared housing situation. A good relationship can last for years. It can forestall the anxious adult child who wonders if mom is okay living at home.
Does this make sense? Do you know people who live together in later years? Would you consider making a change to live with someone before you need help?
Learn more about navigating shared housing with your parents and children: When Your Children Are Your Housemates: Return of the Boomerang Kids , Pressured to Move Closer to Adult Children? (How to Get Them to Stop.)