Dear Family Advisor

I don't want to move in with my adult child. How do I say this without hurting her feelings?

Last updated:

July 25, 2009

I'm in my early 70s and other than a mild heart condition controlled by medication, I'm in good health. My oldest daughter just had her third child and I spent three months helping out. It was a great experience, but honestly, I'm worn to a frazzle. After I got home, my daughter called and asked if I'd consider moving in with them. She said that I could sell my home and they'd add on to their house with my money, and that it "made sense" in today's economy. She went on to say that her children need their grandmother around, and she doesn't know if she can do it without me -- her husband's in the military and is currently deployed.

I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I'm not "old" yet, and I have other plans for my life. How do I tell her this without feeling guilty?

Everyone from Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, to us regular folks is asking the question, "Should I move in with my adult children?" Initially, the First Lady's mom didn't want to move from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Then I read that she planned to get an apartment nearby but later chose a suite on the third floor of the White House. Apparently she's now enjoying her new city so much that the Obamas recently had to hire a babysitter because Grandma had plans!

But what's right for one person isn't necessarily a good fit for another. You know yourself best, and if this isn't something you want to commit to full-time, that doesn't mean you can't continue to help out your daughter, enjoy your grandchildren, and be nearby. It might even be the best of both worlds.

You're so right to think of yourself as still being healthy and vibrant. You have a lot of living to do -- new travels and experiences, revisiting old friendships or creating new ones, are all in your future. Too many seniors take on an "old" mentality when they don't need to. The more you stay active, continue to learn, and experience new things, the more every cell in your body will stay healthy and energized.

That said, this is a difficult time for your daughter, and she does need you. Being a new mom while her husband is deployed without neglecting her other children is grueling. Your support, particularly your emotional support, is very important. Even if her husband isn't serving in a dangerous area, she has fears that he won't come back. No wonder she wants you there!

You don't need to make an all-or-nothing decision. Perhaps you would even consider living nearby temporarily. If not, you could be a great asset without living there or taking on daily duties. Your daughter is stressed and wants to feel cared for -- and as if she's not alone. Find ways to help. Call, visit often, plan activities with your daughter and you. She's worn to a frazzle, too.

Also do things with your grandchildren and encourage your daughter to get away with some girlfriends or by herself; for example, treat her to something like a half-day at a spa if you can afford it. Once she understands that you'll "be there" for her and her family, even if you're not living there, she'll begin to relax. The trick will be creating healthy boundaries you feel good about -- helping her in ways that don't make you feel like you're doing more than you want to.

Your daughter may also have another motive: She may be thinking about your long-term needs. Your recent heart condition may concern her more than you realize. This is a good time to talk about your plans: Where do you think you'd like to live ten or 15 years from now? Have you checked into retirement communities or condos nearby, or do you have another idea of what would best suit you?

Share your thoughts with your daughter. If she's your only child and you'd like her to be involved in your care eventually, then be considerate of her ideas now.

Like the First Lady's mother, remember the subject of helping one another is coming up now for a reason. After four years, the First Lady's mother may or may not choose to return to Chicago. Either way, she'll have spent valuable time with her daughter's family and will have supported them in an amazing stage of their lives.

To do this, like you, she has to figure out her boundaries and how to give in ways she's comfortable with and still maintain a sense of self. It can be done.