House crashing happens more than you think, and not just with aging parents. (Example: At the time of this writing, we'd had one of our siblings live with us for only a few months shy of our total cohabimation time; and in a past life, I lived with my besties when my life was exploding at the exact time theirs was launching into marriage.)
However, parents living with care-giving children is what most of us hear about (and what the smarties among us are planning for) with good reason. A 2017 New York Times article referencing the med-journal JAMA Neurology noted that by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and the number of elderly Americans living with dementia was expected to increase from 5.5 million to 8.5 million.
It got worse. Despite the growing number of dementia patients and others who require ‘round-the-clock care, the United States seemingly has no plan for funding or providing it. “Most of the care for older adults in the United States—from paying bills to feeding, bathing and dressing—falls on unpaid caregivers,” said the article.
Guess who’s providing all the Florence Nightingaling? Women…for their parents, for their aunts and uncles, for their in-laws. Often in her own home. And behind every Flo is her gracious, thoughtful cohabimator who has allowed that situation to happen. Because without their consent, having an added family member or friend joining the household—even for a limited time—couldn’t happen.
A story: My adult sister has special needs—unpredictable seizure disorder; on the Autism spectrum—and can't live unsupervised. Diagnosed at 5 months, Erin is 41 and has lived at home her whole life, in a way, as my mother’s lifelong adult toddler. Her disability strained my parents’ marriage at different times and in different ways, and despite advice from friends who didn’t want to see my folks lose the independence their young marriage afforded them, there was no question Erin wouldn't live with them. She was their daughter.
Fast-forward to when a sudden fall forced my mother’s 86-year-old mum to give up her car and apartment after some 50 years of singledom. All of a sudden, it was either nursing home or my folks’ house; and my father—whose relationship with Nanny was at times as strained as his marriage—willingly opened his half of their split front door so my mum could care for her mother the way he knew my mother would if the situation was reversed.
They didn’t have enough bedrooms for Nanny, and for a time, my dad gave up his bedroom (and bed) as they reconfigured the limited space to fit everyone. When they moved a few years later, they turned a first-floor living room into a bedroom where the house’s only bathroom was. Six years after moving in with them, she passed away in my mother’s arms, giving my mother the lifelong gift of knowing she’d cared for her mother as Nanny had always cared for her.
Today, my mother still credits the entire experience to my father, who she said could’ve easily not allowed Nanny into his home. Many of her friends’ husbands were faced with similar decisions, she said, and nearly none had done what my dad did.
I was in grad school for a goodly part of this time, and as the confidante for each of them, I listened to all their sides: my father’s longing to be higher on the totem pole when it came to my mother’s caring for everyone first; Nanny’s helpless reliance on her adult daughter for everything; my mother’s exhaustion from being everything to everyone but herself. Yet her gratitude for my dad was boundless.
⚜️Take-Away⚜️ Are you a tender, open-hearted person? You’re prob the type to be there for fam and friends as much as possible. Is generosity something you’re looking for in a cohabimate, or did it draw you to your current lovey (…lucky you, BTW)? BEFORE you’re faced with an on-the-spot situation—before your widowed father needs to recover from brain surgery or before you realize your sis is out of a job (and apartment) and has nowhere to camp but your couch—talk through the what-ifs first.
Need help? Consider some of these points that have helped us make some tough decisions:
Adding another adult to your daily routine or space will affect any relationship with someone you live with: not necessarily for bad or good; but affect, it will. Talk through potential pitfalls as well as the blessings that come from helping someone you love (or at least like a hella lot).
No-brainer qualifier: The more space you have, the easier a decision to open your home (should) be. There’s a big gap between letting someone stay in your garage apartment or in-law suite versus a spare bedroom or your couch, because it influences how much you’ll see them on the reg. Again: Know what you guys would do if your bestie needed to crash with you, or if one of you needed to help a parent through a tough medical time.
Can you afford the extra mouth to feed, higher bills from having someone to heat your house for when you’d normally be at the office, or the time you and your love may need to take off to run a family member to doc appointments, etc?
When it comes to care-giving, not everyone who wants to be Florence (or Clarence) Nightingale *should* be. Admit your limitations and own them. It’s okay. (And for the record…so is wanting your home and life with your love to be yours alone. Saying “no” to someone or something is saying “yes” to your relationship...especially if you tend to be the nucleus of your circle.)
From our friends and work to our parents and children, remember that it’s not only okay to prioritize you and your partner, it’s the most important thing you can do to preserve and (and multiply!) your kinetic romantic energy so you have enough mental and physical resources for everyone else in your life. Even better is when you have your feelings sorted out about this stuff before we hope you'll ever have/need to.