Dear Family Advisor

My father seems interested in moving in with me -- and I don't want him to.

Last updated: Apr 07, 2008

At 81, my dad has Parkinson's, three heart stents, a history of hernias, kidney stones, and depression. He lives alone and has about seven hours of in-home care a day. He's fallen once and ended up in the ER twice, and my brothers and I have tried to talk to him about moving somewhere else -- by which we mean an assisted-living situation. He then talks about how the sons of his best friend each built a guesthouse for their father in their backyards. (Hint, hint). I live in a little house with my husband and two little girls. Both my husband and I work. My dad's recent four-day visit with us drove home my inability to deal with tending to his bodily functions and his constant needs. I know he doesn't want to move into a home, and I know he can't afford to stay at home and get the care he needs, but I don't know how to tell him he can't move in with us.

You may be uncertain what to say to your father, but you seem pretty clear about how you feel: You don't think that he should move in with you. And you need to follow your gut. As difficult as it may be to tell him that, you can do so while still reassuring him that you love him and will take care of him.

Although society -- and our parents -- may want us to think that in-home care giving is always best for everyone, it isn't. You give compelling reasons why it would place enormous stress on you and your family at this time in your life. Your father is on his way to needing round-the-clock access to care, and in your home situation -- with two working parents and two young kids -- you don't feel that you can provide it. Care giving for a parent with multiple health issues is an awesome responsibility even in the best situation, and stretching yourself too thin won't help him or anyone else in your family, including you.

You mention that you have two brothers. I don't know what your family dynamic is, but there's no reason why you need take this on alone. I hope your brothers are taking an active role in this decision, and if they aren't, you need to let them know that they should. Parental care giving too often falls primarily on the shoulders of daughters, and even daughters-in-law. Yet, like childrearing, it isn't just a "woman's thing."

If you and your brothers agree that your father should move into a retirement or assisted-living community, you should all be involved in finding the right one for him, as that may take some work. You'll want him to live near at least one of you, and if you're in different parts of the country, you'll have more options to choose from. Even if you all live in the same area, it may take your combined efforts to find the right place.

I'm not surprised that your dad is resisting moving into an assisted-living situation, but he may be surprised at how much the good ones have to offer these days. You can talk honestly to him about the reasons why he might be happier in one of them than he would be living with you. He may have a fuller life. He'll be able socialize with people of his generation who share his interests and concerns. He'll probably have easy access to many activities -- lectures, films, recreational opportunities, social events, outings, exercise classes -- geared toward people his age. He'll have immediate access to professional care when he needs it. He won't have to rely solely on you and your schedule for his social life and excursions. In some ways, living in a retirement community can actually be a way for him to preserve his independence.

Keep in mind that not having your dad live with you doesn't mean that you won't be a caregiver. You already are one. And you've shown yourself to be a good caregiver by making sure he's had help at home and by all the thought you're putting into how best to take care of him now. Even though an assisted-living situation will alleviate some of the burden, there will still be many care-giving issues for you and your brothers to deal with. Being a good caregiver doesn't mean that you have to be willing to turn your life, and that of your husband and children, upside down. You're still your father's daughter, and you'll still provide the love that only you can.