Dear Carol: I realize that this is the reverse of your usual column questions, but I wanted to warn others not to make the mistake I made. My son lost his job during the pandemic, so I bought a house with my life savings to provide myself and the family a place to live. I'm seeing that I made a huge mistake.
Both my son and his wife have jobs now and can support themselves. I want to move out, but it would be a physical and financial challenge for me. I’m afraid, too, that ending this arrangement would also end the relationship I have with my daughter-in-law, which affects my ability to see the grandchildren. I’m working with an attorney, so I’ll figure this out, but I want to warn others to be careful what they wish for. — RT.
Dear RT: You were exceptionally generous to buy this home to help your son and his family, so don’t fault yourself. If it helps to know this, many other well-meaning families have tried to cohabitate, and the result is often similar.
That's not to say that intergenerational living doesn't work for some. In fact, there are families that thrive in this setting. Still, it's not a viable arrangement for all families, no matter how much they love one another.
I won’t try to advise you about how to untangle your situation. You’ve taken the correct first step by seeing an attorney and this person will guide you forward. What I will do is make suggestions for others who might be considering intergenerational living.
- It’s crucial to have realistic expectations. Even if you’ve had a good relationship in the past, living together could be a challenge. Do you expect completely smooth sailing? That’s unlikely. So, think carefully and plan for some bumpy times.
- Is the older generation expected to provide care and/or supervision for children? Does everyone agree that is the plan?
- Financial impact. Combining households has the potential to make everyone’s money go further, but it also means that more people must agree on how money is spent. This can be tricky even for the closest families.
- Even if the whole family initially likes the idea, specifics need to be addressed ahead of time. Is this arrangement meant to be temporary or permanent? Is the elder going to have private quarters (recommended when possible)? What happens if the arrangement doesn’t work out?
- Consider every possibility you can think of and make sure that all expectations are clearly communicated. For adult children, consider that the day may come when your elder needs more care than you can provide. Discussing these things can be difficult, but it will ensure that everyone is prepared and on the same page from the start.
My suggestions for others won’t help you, RT, but your letter will help many readers. I’m hoping by now that you have found a reasonable solution so that you can live with some serenity.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.