Your Aging Parents Live With You, but They Don’t Contribute — Now What?

When you were a kid, you had your list of chores: make your bed, put away your toys, do your dishes — or else …

Fast forward: Your parents live with you now.

It’s actually very common for members of the sandwich generation — adults, usually in their 40s or 50s, who care for both their aging parents and their own kids — to have several generations living in their home.

While it can be a blessing to have the whole family together under one roof, it can also be stressful.

One source of stress can come from your parents not contributing — especially if you’re not sure what they’re able to do or how to talk to them about it.

The ideal time to have this conversation would be before your parents move in. But even if your parents are already living with you, here are 5 things to keep in mind when you’re setting expectations for how they can contribute.

1. Be Realistic

Having an extra set of hands around the house to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare might seem like a dream come true. But, they might not be able to help with everything.

They may get tired much quicker, so vacuuming and mowing the lawn might be a bit much. Their eyesight might not be what it used to be, so reading recipes can be difficult.

Your parents might also have age-related conditions, such as osteoporosis — gradual loss of bone tissue, leading to weakened bones — which can make them prone to falls or dropping things. Scrubbing your good china or carrying boxes to the attic might not be the wisest choices.

Keep their age and health in mind before asking them to help with anything and everything you have to do.

2. But Don’t Let Them Off the Hook

Depending on their age and health, chores like cooking or cleaning might not be a problem. But even if they can’t do those particular chores, there are plenty of things they can do. Even little tasks, like clipping coupons or folding laundry, can save you time and energy.

Finding something for them to do doesn’t just make your life a little easier — it’s also good for their own mental wellbeing.

As older adults age, and lose some of their physical abilities, your parents might start to feel as if they’re losing their independence. And if you’re not letting them do anything, they could also feel like they’re being babied.

Knowing that they can still do something helpful — and having someone hold them accountable for it — will make them feel useful and less dependent on others.

3. Talk to Them About How They Can Help Out — but Be Tactful

Nagging is not a good approach. Keeping your frustrations bottled up is also not a healthy option, either.

    5 Things to Keep in Mind When Asking Your Parents to Contribute to the Household

  1. They might get defensive at first, especially if they disagree. Let them express their feelings without getting defensive, too.
  2. They may be embarrassed about their situation. Tell them that they aren’t a burden, and you love having them there, but you just need a little help.
  3. Ask how they’d prefer to help. They might be more willing to lend a hand if it’s something they enjoy doing.
  4. Try not to think of it as a confrontation or an intervention. No one likes to feel attacked, especially by their own family members. Just go into it as a normal conversation.
  5. If the conversation takes a turn and becomes too heated, take a break and wait until everyone has cooled off to try again.

4. Show Your Appreciation

Aging parents sometimes feel a little awkward or embarrassed that they have to rely on their kids who once relied on them. It’s an odd role reversal that takes some adjusting.

Even if you get frustrated with them, or you wish they would do more, don’t forget to acknowledge when they help out.

Let them know that you appreciate them watching the kids for the afternoon or doing the dishes. Avoid pointing out the one piece of dust they missed when they went on a cleaning spree.

Feeling appreciated can make them feel less like a burden and more like a valued member of the household.

5. Make Contributing a Team Sport

Ask for their input — you might be surprised to learn how they want to help. They might feel better about participating if you make household contribution an all-hands-on-deck project.

Use this as an opportunity to reevaluate how everyone in the house is contributing. Are the kids old enough to start taking on more responsibilities? Is there something your spouse could be helping out with more?

Once everyone has defined jobs, have everyone — yourself included — sign a family agreement, committing to how they will contribute. Once they see everyone’s on board, your parents might realize that they aren’t being unfairly singled out.

6. Be Prepared for Pushback

No matter how hard you try, your parents may be set in their ways — and tokens of appreciation or family contracts aren’t going to change them.

If it is not possible for them to help out or if they refuse, you may ask people in similar situations what has worked for them. If your parents are giving push-back, try asking them to help you come up with a solution that will work for both of you.

Do you have any success stories about finding a plan that worked for you and your parents? Comment and let us know.

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