Dear Carol: I'm 78 years old, and I have lived with my son and his wife for two years. I'm feeling hemmed in, and I think that they may feel the same way. They are kind, but my daughter-in-law seems stressed when we're together too much even though in the past we have always gotten along well. The house doesn't allow much privacy which may be why we get on each other's nerves. I also miss being around people my own age.
This arrangement seemed like a good idea, but I'm afraid we all think it's a mistake. I'd gladly move to assisted living, but I've been paying rent to the kids, which helps with their bills.
For this reason, I'm reluctant to tell them that I'd like to move while we're all still getting along rather than wait until our relationship turns so sour that it's impossible to fix. How do I approach them considering the financial arrangement? - TE
Dear TE: I'd like to congratulate you on your insight and clear thinking. You want the family to remain loving and close, and you can see that this precious relationship could be damaged if you continue with an arrangement that no longer works. Some people love activity all the time and need little alone time or privacy. Others want and need more privacy and independence. You fall in the latter range. This has nothing to do with love, rather it's about personalities.
As you've expressed, if it weren't that the money you contribute helps the family with their lifestyle, you'd be able to simply let them know that you love them and appreciate the arrangements that they have made but you feel that you'd be happier with more independence. They'd likely say something reflexively like, "Oh, no, Mom, we love having you here," but once that is out it probably wouldn't take much of an argument to win them over to your thinking. They, too, know that for some people too much closeness can undermine relationships.
As you've said, the money aspect makes this more difficult than it would otherwise be. Are your son and his wife truly strapped without your help? Have they enlarged the house or made other modifications to accommodate you?
Neither of these situations should dictate where you choose to live, but they are considerations. If possible, you could pay your son and his wife back for accommodations that they made to the house for your benefit even though this probably adds to their home value. If the money you provide is mainly for extras they should be able to adjust.
Either way, you need to have a loving talk with them. Tell them that it's your need to be more independent and have further access to people your age that makes you want to consider moving. Emphasize your love for them. Talk honestly about the money. I'm certain that you'll find a way to make this work for everyone's benefit and your loving family can stay close.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.