Shall I invite Dad to live with us?
My dad’s been angling to move in with me ever since my mum died. I know it wouldn’t work. He doesn’t get on that well with my teenagers and he’s been very used to having his own way. He doesn’t live that far away and I’m already helping him with shopping, cooking and getting to appointments. I don’t have a partner to help either. Dad comes round for his dinner quite a lot and every time he drops huge hints about the spare room. Am I being mean by not taking that final step and letting him in for his last years?
Oh dear. Unfortunately as well as being very stressful, your dilemma is an increasingly common one. As a society, we get so many conflicting messages about what we should be doing in terms of looking after our older people. Most of us in our “middle years” have been brought up to think that it's our responsibility to look after our parents when they get older. Some of us may indeed want to do that or simply feel like it's the right thing to do.
But sometimes the relationship with our parents is strained or we don’t feel like we are capable of being a “carer”. And we aren’t sure how far that responsibility goes – regular visits, inviting them to stay for the weekend, asking Mum or Dad to move in? What about the needs of other family members and the demands of work? With all of this to think about it can be very hard to know what we want or need ourselves as individuals
What is a “good daughter”?
It sounds like you are already doing a great deal for your father - shopping, cooking, taking him to appointments, inviting him over for meals - without much help or support. In most people's terms you are already being a “good daughter”? I guess the question for you is what’s “good enough” and why you feel that it’s “mean” not to let him move in with you.
Are you thinking about how your wider family or society in general will judge you? Is the main feeling one of guilt? Are the voices from your upbringing or religious community telling you you're being a bad daughter? It’s probably a good idea to think whether these messages are still valid - otherwise you will continue to feel increasingly bad about the situation or else cave in in a weak moment, move your father in and potentially end up with an unhappy household.
Before ruling it out completely, I wonder if it is worth spending a little bit of time thinking about whether it really might be feasible for your father to move in with you. Perhaps talking with your children and seeing if there's any way you could make this work. Are there any advantages to having him around? As we know, teenagers are often hard to live with but they might surprise you in their reaction or have a different perspective on the situation.
However, if it becomes clear that you are right in saying that it just wouldn’t work, then it’s time to have an honest conversation with your father and to be armed with different options.
The way forward
First, have a think about why your father is dropping hints about moving in. It sounds like since your mother died he may miss having someone to look after him. Is he lonely? Does he need more support? Does he miss family life? Did he and your mother have a social life together which has disappeared?
Then have a think about ways to make his life a little easier and more enjoyable without him actually moving in with you.
Would it help if he had a “housekeeper”? Are there local community volunteers who would pop in and have a chat with him? If he’s still able to go out, can you organise social events for him, trips to the theatre or Bingo or regular visits to a friend or relative. Can you set him up with Skype to keep in touch with people who aren’t local or see if your children would phone him and ask for help with their homework? If he has hobbies, can you find a local club or some way for him to get involved with his favourite activities again?
Prepare for conversation
It will probably be difficult to talk to your father about a situation that’s not been openly discussed before. You need to be clear in your own mind about what you’re going to say, to anticipate how he might respond and to have some positive suggestions at the ready. Depending on his personality, you may need to be gentle, persuasive, direct or blunt in order to get him to listen.
You say he is used to getting his own way so it may be a conversation that has to be repeated, especially if his memory is poor. You may want to give reasons or just say that it’s not going to work.
However you phrase it, I would make it clear that you are aware how much he misses your mother and that you would really like to help him as much as you can and to make life better for him.
You talked about your father’s “last few years”. I don’t know how old your father is or whether in fact he might have many, many years left. Now may also be a good time to think about how he will cope and what you will do if his health deteriorates suddenly and is he is no longer able to live on his own. These are always such difficult decisions to make.
Families often wait until there is a crisis and then have to pull together a less than optimum solution in a hurry – in your case, it might seem like there is no alternative to him moving in at that stage. To avoid this, it would be helpful to know how your father feels about the possibility of having a carer, moving to sheltered accommodation or other options if it became necessary in the future.
To sum up, it looks like it’s decision time. You can continue with the way things are, feeling “mean” but trying to avoid the situation. You can bite the bullet and try to make it work for your father to move in with you. You can look at ways to improve his current living arrangements and quality of life or you can plan ahead for the time when he might move somewhere where he has more company and support
None of this is easy and I’m afraid you’re probably going to have to have some awkward conversations with your father and perhaps with your children too. I’d be happy to have a chat with you to try to minimise the guilt, talk through your options and try to find a workable solution. And I do wish you the best of luck with everything
If you found this article helpful you may like to read our series of reader experiences on moving a parent in:
Why my parents never came to live with me
Gaining new freedom by moving in together
How tradition makes living with dad the obvious choice
Dr Lesley Trenner is an Ageing Parent specialist with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to balance work and care, or cope with mid-life, family and career challenges. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat.
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