Part II – Living with Your Adult Children – How to Make it Work

Let’s start with a disclaimer: I live with one of my daughters, her husband, and two dogs.

This was never my expectation for my later years. My plan was to “age in place” in my 900-square-foot condo in Brentwood, Missouri until I collapsed at my computer. I think my daughters feared that might actually happen if they didn’t take charge of my living situation. I will skip what transpired between the moment that occurred to them and the present (three years later), except to say it included three moves, several major life decisions, and two years of being isolated in a new home, in a new state because of Covid.

I am not alone in making such a move. According to, “During the past twenty-five years, the percentage of older parents moving in with their adult children has doubled. If you’re planning to spend your senior years with one of your grown children, think it through, plan ahead, and take steps to avoid the stresses and conflicts that often ruin what should be a great thing: multigenerational family living.”

(This post was first published as a chapter in my book, More Thoughts on Aging with Grace: What you need to know to live well now and in the years to come.)

Here are some guidelines for smoothing the transition for you and your children:

  1. Start with an expectation that you and your children can make this work. Attitude is everything. If you start out thinking of all the reasons this arrangement won’t succeed, it probably won’t. But if you keep an open mind and look at the possibilities, rather than the downsides, your chances of success multiply exponentially.
  2. Pledge to be open and honest. Nicole Hanna, the executive director of an assisted-living community in Henderson, Nevada, and a twenty-year veteran of the eldercare industry believes that success is not possible without a frank conversation upfront. It may not be the easiest of conversations, but it will set the tone for future communication. Don’t hold back, don’t keep secrets, and most important, don’t ever lie to your children.
  3. Try to understand your children’s boundaries, and make sure they understand yours. Boundaries to be respected include physical space, schedules, parenting style, habits, food choices, work life, social life, and exercise life. Your children have an established way of doing things, from cleaning up the kitchen to chauffeuring the kids. It’s up to you to learn how things are done and try not to rock the boat.
  4. Expect the unexpected. No matter how thorough your planning, situations will come up that you couldn’t possibly have predicted. Try to keep inevitable, unforeseen events to a minimum by demonstrating your flexibility and willingness to compromise when they do occur. You can’t predict everything, but after a while, you’ll get better at reading the signs.
  5. Anticipate your children’s needs. Sometimes, this isn’t possible, and you completely miss the cues until they are brought to your attention. If you tend to leave the water running or turn the thermostat up a degree or two, you may not see the problem until someone points out that the utility bills have increased two months in a row. There are also unspoken needs that can have a profound effect on household dynamics. If your dietary needs and your children’s don’t mesh if their taste in TV programs turns you off, or if bedtimes and morning rituals conflict, it pays to remember that no matter what your agreement, you are a guest in their home, and it is up to you to blend into their lives. That might not be easy, but it will go a long way toward creating peace and harmony.
  6. Get down to details. Carolyn Miller Parr, an elder mediator, and the co-author of Love’s Way: Living Peacefully with Your Family as Your Parents Age, stresses the importance of sharing your personal, financial, and medical details with your kids. Don’t think of this as losing your autonomy and independence, and don’t assume you will always be able to recall those details or make critical decisions on your own. Your children feel responsible for your health and well-being, so keeping them in the dark about important information puts them at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to care for you.
  7. Discuss money matters. A conversation that is likely to be uncomfortable, yet necessary, is about money. You would probably prefer to keep your finances private, even from your children. But misplaced financial expectations, feelings of resentment over lopsided costs, or the simple realities of financial security can derail your efforts to live harmoniously with your children.
  8. Find a balance for differing temperature needs. You want the house warm and cozy; your kids prefer it somewhere between chilly and chilling. If you are home during the day and they are at work, don’t agonize over the thermostat setting. Make your needs clear and arrive at an agreement about where to set the temperature to keep you in your comfort zone. The need for climate control may seem trivial, but when anyone in the family is too hot or too cold, this can mushroom into a significant sticking point.
  9. Clarify what is too much help and what is too little. Alixandra Foisy is a professional in the field of gerontology who provides services to seniors with limited abilities and income. She points out that you might feel like you’re losing your independence by moving in with your children, which could lead you to resent the offer of any help you don’t absolutely need. On the other side of the coin are your adult children’s expectations about the level of help you need.
  10. Don’t let unresolved issues from the past wreck the present. The parent-child dynamic is one of the most complex relationships a person will ever have, and childhood issues, drama, and hard feelings can last all through adulthood and bleed into the new living arrangement. When the roles switch and the parent is under the child’s roof, old skeletons have a way of resurfacing.
  11. Consider a written contract. When you are considering moving in with your adult children, it can be helpful to write out a contract regarding your children’s and your expectations and boundaries. If you know their preferences and ways of running their home, you can make a sincere attempt to honor them. Areas of disagreement should be discussed so that you both understand each other. These issues can be worked out when you talk to and listen to each other.
  12. Make room. Kelsey Roadruck, the editor at House Method, a household-improvement magazine, recently covered multigenerational living in her publication. Along the way, she learned just how important the physical space itself can be in making your new living arrangement successful. “Step No. 1 is to make more room to accommodate all members of the household,” says Roadruck.

I just reread these guidelines to see how well I was following them. Suffice to say, I could use some improvement in a few important areas. I think I will post them in a prominent place so I can revisit them on a regular basis.