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A top concern for family caregivers is how to create a cohesive home environment. Discover easy tips for blending your multigenerational home.
When you start a family the last thing on your mind is trying to also create a home for your aging parent. Now your parent needs your help and your first hurdle is how on earth you’re going to create a home for your kids and your aging parent. Questions flood through your mind:
- How is my parent going to react to the noise and chaos of children?
- How are the routines of an elderly person going to fit in with the routines of babies and toddlers?
- Is it even possible to blend our multigenerational home?
- Am I going to be able to switch back and forth from parent to caregiver?
The bottom line is you don’t want to simply cohabitate; multiple generations merely existing under one roof. You want a strong, living family unit. You want your home to be a peaceful sanctuary.
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Redefining Your Family Unit
Before you can even begin to create a cohesive, blended home, you have to redefine your family unit. It can no longer be your home or your parent’s home. It must be your family’s home.
For this to be possible you must start viewing your aging parent as a vital part of your family unit. This can be difficult especially when you consider that most aging adults are not adaptable and accommodating. By making some simple changes and adjustments you can successfully become a family unit
Start including the needs of your aging parent into your routines.
Part of the reason we feel put out or inconvenienced by someone is because it causes us to break from our routine. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a routine person, you still have habits.
When those habits are disrupted, we get frustrated. That frustration is often directed toward the person causing the disruption. When you start reordering your habits and routines to include your aging parent’s needs, you will cease to view those needs as inconvenient.
Include them in all aspects of your family life.
If your kids are included, make a point to also include your aging parent. Don’t give yourself the option of leaving your aging parent out of family fun. Unless it is truly something they would never have enjoyed or something that would be physically taxing or dangerous, intentionally include them.
Tips for Inclusion
- You don’t always have to ask your parent “do you want to”. Their default answer will be “no”. Instead start saying “we’re going to go/do/enjoy…” or, “come join us while we…”. While it’s not an order, it’s a strong suggestion and eliminates the need for and confusion of a choice.
- Don’t make it a big deal. With kids, part of the enjoyment of experiences is the buildup of excitement in the days/hours before. For your aging parents this excitement can often be confused with anxiety making them dread an experience rather than joyfully anticipate.
- Create activities and experiences that you know everyone will enjoy. If you had a child with special needs or disabilities the majority of family events would be in consideration of their needs. If you truly want to be one family unit, you need to do the same for your aging parent.
Watch your language.
When people ask about your family, always include your aging parent. My husband and I moved our kids in with my MIL when my FIL passed away.
For a while, anytime someone asked, my MIL would immediately tell them that we lived with her. She wanted her generosity of allowing us to live in her home to be appreciated by anyone who would listen. This of course became a source of resentment in me.
In the same way, I would make a point to tell anyone who asked that we took care of my MIL. I wanted people to appreciate my sacrifice and also not be seen as unambitious failures because we lived in her home.
I got so miserable that I finally decided something had to change. Knowing it had to start with my own views and opinions, I started thinking of my MIL much the same way I think of my children. Changing this mindset went a long way in redefining our family unit.
Related Post: How to Find Joy in Caregiving
Redefining Your Spaces
A Space for Each Individual
When moving your parent into your home, make sure they have their own defined spaces. Likewise, create spaces for your kids, for you and your husband, and communal spaces.
Each person having their own space:
- Gives each person a place to decompress when emotions start running high.
- Provides a greater sense of belonging and security.
- Maintains individuality among the members of your family.
If the kids start getting to loud and rambunctious in their play, they are sent to the playroom. If my MIL gets overwhelmed by people, she is able to find refuge to her bedroom. When I need a break from it all, I escape to my cozy office corner.
With our individual spaces comes individual rules. My MIL doesn’t always appreciate the kids entering her room. Because I can’t predict when their presence will cause her increased anxiety, my kids know not to go in unless our hired companion or I are in there.
When we first moved in with my MIL, my son, our only child at the time, was two-years-old. Like most parents, I had a baby monitor in his room. Imagine my shock when late one night I woke up to see my son not in his bed. I rushed into his room to find it abandoned.
I started frantically searching the house yelling at my husband that the baby was missing. My two-year-old was no where to be found. After an eternal two minutes of hysterical searching and me ready to call the police, my MIL came out of her room with my little two-year-old toddling behind her.
You see, my MIL likes to wander the house in the middle of the night. Not remembering my son was in his room, she went in and turned on the light. Naturally, this woke him up. Rather than wake me, she just took him to her room. Now our policy is my MIL doesn’t go into the kid’s room.
With evergreen (never changing) rules in place confusion is kept at a minimum and I have greater assurance they will be followed.
A Space for Everyone
Just like having a space for each member of your family, you should have spaces for coming together as a family. Our home’s communal spaces are the kitchen and living room. These are spaces everyone knows they are welcome at all times. They are safe spaces specifically for fellowship and family times.
Each member of our family is taught to be respectful and understanding of these common areas. This means we practice self-control; the kids know to turn their volume down and my MIL knows to expect some noise.
We encourage interaction; my kids and MIL know that if it’s before our 8pm bedtime, our activities will include everyone. This means the living room TV is used sparingly during the day and only kid-friendly programming. Games must include Nana (if she’s willing). Quiet times are observed and enforced.
Additionally, everyone knows if they don’t want to participate in family time, there is always their individual space to “escape” to.
Create A Cleaning Policy
Our routine includes 15 minutes every evening where we put our things away. We remove the things from someone else’s space that doesn’t belong. We clear the common rooms of our individual belongings and return them to our spaces.
This keeps my MIL’s personal belonging safe from the kids curious hands and toys from creating tripping hazards in the night. I don’t have to worry about my kids or my MIL getting into something that might harm them or create a disturbance for the rest of the family.
Related Post: Why Caring for Aging Parents Is Easier With Kids
Tips for Blending Your Multigenerational Home
- When decorating your communal spaces try to combine everyone’s style. My MIL loves bold color and statement pieces whereas my style tends to be more neutral. Our living room decor has enough color to interest my MIL but enough neutrality to keep me calm.
- Always enforce the rules of your spaces. Rules are not bad things unless they’re not subject to consistent enforcement. Even when my MIL isn’t here, I still require the kids to abide by the same space rules. When the kids are gone, we still have limited daytime TV in the living room. By maintaining consistency, the rule is about the spaces not the individuals.
- Spaces don’t have to be rooms! I keep my “office” at the kitchen table. My family knows not to bother my computer or any paperwork. The play space for my youngest is a corner of the living room with all of his toys. My husband has a specific chair that everyone know is “Daddy’s chair” when he is home.
- Be respectful. My MIL is not a tidy person. When we first decorated her room, we spent hours alphabetizing and grouping her library of 500+ books. A few days later, every book had been moved and “organized” in a system I still haven’t deciphered. While it drives me nuts, it’s her space and I respect it by not reorganizing. At the same time, I insist the main living areas are kept at least somewhat organized for everyone’s mental and physical well-being.
Did you like this post? What are your best tips for blending your multigenerational home? Let me know in the comments below!
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