What would you do if your parent asked you to move back home to help with managing the household because your other parent was ill? What if you lost your job and couldn’t find a new one? What if a combination of factors-including but not limited to the recession, economy and life issues-created circumstances that meant your best choice was moving back home as a 40-something or 50 –something adult?

A client of mine is dealing with this precise issue. She was contacted by her father, who was asking her to move back home to help care for her mother who was recently diagnosed with the “beginnings of dementia” following a shoulder surgery. Her father has had 2 cardiac procedures and a mini-stroke. Both parents are in their 80’s. What would you do?

My client has no children living at home. She lives in one city and works in another approximately the same distance it would take her to drive if she moved back home. Until yesterday, she had not yet decided what to do but now the decision has been made. In November she will move back home to stay with her parents until one or both of her parents stabilizes or pass-on.

My client is 43 and is knowingly giving up about 5-10 years of her life so her parents can have a better quality of life. AS we discussed her decision, she asked me for some guidelines about how to make this transition work for both herself and her parents.

After thinking about her request I came up with these 10 tips for this transition TO go more smoothly. SOME OF THE SUGGESTED rules and guidelines CAN BE ADJUSTED AS ISSUES come up. In this scenario it would be impossible to foresee every possibility but there are some eventualities that can be addressed.

These 10 tips can be used in almost any context where “blended” families are attempting to cohabitate. If you have aging parents, children in trouble or even kids who won’t leave, these tips can be helpful. If you come up with any issues that can’t be solved with these tips, please email me so we can find a solution that works for you and your individual situation.

Tip #1
Start with the end in mind.
This is Stephen Covey’s first principle of highly effective people. In this situation, it’s a must.
If you or someone is going to be moving in together what is the proposed time frame for them to be there? Needing a place to live while you are job hunting or re-establishing new residence in a new city is one thing, but moving in to help with the process of a dying parent is another. The other consideration is: What happens after the event? At what point does the person who is “living in” move out? Make your plans all the way through to the completed outcome: getting a job and moving into your new house or apartment. If the plan is to stay until YOUR parent is deceased, plan through the death, burial and the disposition of the estate. Think ahead: how long will your assistance be needed? The most highly effective plans begin at the conclusion of the expected event.
Work backward from the event to the present day to come up with the steps you will require..

Tip # 2
Setup all the rules in advance.
Question any assumptions you may have about everything.
Everyone has different rules for day-to-day living. The most common mistake that people make is assuming that “their” rules are exactly the same as the person who is moving in. They aren’t. They aren’t even close to being the same. Talk about everything: Food rules, TV rules, when you go to bed, topics of conversation that are off-limits, how laundry is to be done, who does the cooking AND/OR cleaning . You get the idea. Envision a typical day from wake-up to bedtime. Do not be surprised if your list goes on and on. It may take several hours or days to complete. But it will be far better to do this in advance, rather than waiting and getting surprised.

Tip #3
Set Boundaries
Boundaries exist for everyone. If you know that every night your Mom watches “Wheel of Fortune” every single night of the week, don’t plan on watching the ballgame on that TV. Or if you are of one particular religious belief and your family is another, perhaps setting a boundary about talking or forcing someone to participate in another’s belief may be a good thing to do in advance.

We all have identities, beliefs, values, things, people and situations that are special and sacred. We don’t normally step on those things on purpose but it can happen. Having a conversation in advance about your boundaries and hot-buttons are a good way of limiting the number of “violations” that occur. If you already know that something will probably be said inadvertently; talk about it now. Thinking ahead and communicating in advance will hopefully minimize or perhaps even prevent any destructive arguments.

Tip #4
Free Zones and Safe Spaces
In every household there are common areas or Free Zones. In my personal home, the Free Zone is the living room. If you aren’t feeling chatty or you’re reading a book and you don’t want to be interrupted, choose another location than the living room because your occupation of that space implies you are available for conversation.
The Safe Spaces are areas that require knocking before entry. The Bathroom is obvious, but not so obvious are bedrooms and home offices. If you want me to snap your head off your body, come into my room without knocking. Everyone has these types of areas so talk about it and decide in advance where they are and what actions must be taken before entry is allowed.
Remember: your reptilian brain is the seat of all patterns, habits and routines. It is an instinctive, nonverbal brain that processes even a minor territory intrusion as a full-on frontal attack. When survival is on the line, the reptilian brain always wins so be sure to let your new housemates know about your desk, your favorite chair or your coffee cups as soon as you can.

Tip #5
Free Time and Vacations
Adults need time off. They need time off from work, from kids, from spouses and from parents. The more stressful the situation or living arrangements the greater the need for organized scheduled time off. If you are the adult child of a parent moving back home to help if may seem logical that you might continue your intimate relationships or go out with the boys/girls once in a while. Do not assume that your parent or housemates think the same way you do. My mother is currently the caretaker of my child while I work in Dallas during the week. When I get home on Fridays, I can tell that during the weekend she needs her time away for my lovely yet highly demanding 4 year-old. And occasionally I need a break from both of them and stay in Dallas over a weekend.

Vacations work the same way. I love my Mom but I don’t want to spend a weekend in Cancun playing golf with her; maybe once in awhile, not as a steady activity. She also will have to plan a girl trip with her buddies now and again. I cannot emphasize how important Fun and Recreation is to your daily, weekly and monthly sanity check and it seems to be the first thing on the list that gets dropped when trouble in a family flairs up. It needs to be put into the overall plan just like everything else for ecological reasons.

Becoming a caregiver can be emotionally rewarding but it can easily become the fastlane to a bad case of F.D. S. (Fun deficiency syndrome!)
Vacations and free time are necessary to prevent caregiver burnout.
They are not luxuries. They are essential to your health, well-being and overall sanity regardless of your living arrangements.

Tip #6
Establishing Adult Relationships
This might sound like one of those “duh-of course” line items and it is. I am frequently surprised how little this is done in real time. Think about this. I’m 53 and my Mom is 80 so we’ve been adults for a longtime but it wasn’t until I suggested that we actually work on being friends as adults that she had this huge epiphany that she had still been trying to manage me.

I’m not much on being managed by others without my permission. The result was there was a huge calming effect that occurred with that revelation and we’ve gotten along much better since then. Now if she can get me to quit trying to manage her, we’ll really make some progress. Even though I do this for a living I’m still human AND so are you.

Tip #7
Get Curious
The solution to almost any problem or emotional response is curiosity. If you are moving in with parents or family or they you, it’s time to get really curious about how you and they live their lives. Curiosity may actually save you from yourself as you reexamine some of those interesting habits and behaviors that you think are entirely normal.

Each of us has our own idiosyncrasies. Some may be so bizarre we could probably have our own show on the Discovery Channel. They just don’t seem odd to us because we do them all the time. Your family is the same way. Becoming curious with some humor about the differences between you guys will smooth your path as you travel down this road together.

Tip #8
Weekly Meetings
The best way to prevent the “little things” from becoming “big things” are weekly meetings. There is probably no such thing as the perfect life, the perfect relationship or the perfect job. Scheduling and implementing a weekly meeting for people to talk, discuss and mediate is going to be your best source of releasing pressure, especially if someone in your family is going through the process dying.

Tip #9
Conflict Resolution
A good friend of mine told me that “conflict is a way of getting to know another person at a deeper level of understanding”. Conflict happen all the time, so what would it be like if you expected them to come up from time to time as a normal part of your relationship development?
The basic conflict resolution model is simple and has four steps 1) find a neutral third party as mediator 2) agree to work on this until all parties have reached agreement 3) take turns talking about what the problem is and how if feels 4) agree on a solution that meets both or all of the needs of the parties in conflict. This process take a little time to get used to, particularly listening to how the other person feels, but it’s a very important part of the process. Most people feel better after they’ve had a chance to express their feelings, Take the time to listen and you’ll find that most of the conflict is solved with that one step.

I highly recommend the book “getting to yes” written by the Harvard Negotiation Project. It give you specific pointers on how to separate the issues at hand from the emotions that get triggered by those issues For example, scheduling time off is a logistical question but may trigger feelings of guilt or resentment. “Getting to Yes” shows you how to separate your feelings from the issue at hand.

Tip #10
Asking for Help
The total cumulative knowledge I possess about cardiology, putting on women’s makeup, conducting an IPO and tournament bass fishing is exactly zero. The major difference is I know that I don’t know and I know when to ask an expert.

If the reason that you are moving with a relative or they WITH you IS because of illness and possible death you may have to ask an expert. You will need legal advice, burial advice, benefits advice, medical advice and the list goes on. Be smart and start asking questions now. There is going to be plenty of emotional stuff going on as well, bereavement, guilt, anger etc., so be sure to consult a professional on these issues as well. My advice is always going to be “Plan Ahead.” Get the person who is ill into coaching OR counseling BEFORE things get to the terminal stage.. You might discover that the person who is dying has a unique perspective on the subject that you and family members remaining behind may not have.

Whether you are moving in with your parents, your kids moving back home or your parents are moving in to your home this is really a great opportunity for you to get to know these people and YOURSELF at a completely different level. The opportunity can be used to HEAL THE WOUNDS of many generations both past and present. I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of planning ahead and of good continuous communication. If you have additional questions please feel free to contact me.(drm@drmichaelharris.com)

Author's Bio: 

Michael Harris, PhD is Clinical Hypnotherapist, Fitness, Life and Business Coach in Frisco, Texas He conducts monthly seminars and weekly groups for individual, couples and families in the North Texas area who are involved with “blended family issues”.
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