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Retire Better

Aug. 21, 2020, 10:02 a.m. EDT

Guess who’s moving in? Mom and Dad

Millions of Americans have new roommates: their extended family

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By Paul Brandus, MarketWatch

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

For many — if not most — seniors, one painful downside to the coronavirus pandemic is that they haven’t been able to be with family. To give their grandchildren a hug. To share birthdays, holidays and other happy times. The approaching holiday season will no doubt serve as yet another reminder of this physical distance and isolation. Zoom, Skype and FaceTime help bridge the gap, but it’s not enough.

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But this isn’t a problem for millions of Americans over age 60, who happen to live under the same roof as their adult children. Sometimes it’s the seniors who move in; sometimes it’s the other way around, says Jennifer Prell, president of Elderwerks , an Illinois-based nonprofit organization that helps seniors and their children with housing issues.

“It’s probably about 10-12% of Americans aged 60 or older that live with their adult children,” estimates Prell, who has been working with seniors and their families since 2006.

The incentive to double up on housing is hardly surprising given the financial stress that tens of millions of older Americans face. Pensions are the exception rather than the norm. Personal savings are meager, and with an average monthly benefit this year of $1,503, Social Security is modest.

And with life expectancies that are creeping ever higher, “Many seniors fear they’ll outlive their money,” Prell says.

Meantime, their adult children may have financial issues of their own: Childcare costs, multiple jobs, insufficient — or nonexistent health — insurance and more.

So to make ends meet, living together could make financial sense for both generations.

But before anyone moves in with anyone, Prell emphasizes that a discussion between both parties should be held first.

“You have to lay out a plan, have an agreement with both saying ‘This is my expectation,’” she says. “’This is what you can expect from us, and this is what we expect from you.’”

How much, if anything, will one party contribute to housing costs? Food and utilities? Will anyone have to share a bathroom? What about cooking? And the laundry? And if there are grandchildren, how — and will — Grandma or Grandpa help take care of them?

“As long as everyone is on the same page, it can work,” Prell says.

If you’re able to move in with your kids and help them with their children (and other things), that’s fabulous. As long as there are no power struggles and it’s an amicable living arrangement that’s beneficial to both parties, then yes, absolutely do it.”

But money and chores aren’t, and shouldn’t be, the only considerations here. Seniors usually cherish their independence and want to preserve it for as long as possible. Anything that encroaches upon that can erode their sense of dignity and sense of self-worth. This helps explain a survey from the research firm Gallup & Robinson which revealed that while 53% of adults said they would take in an aging parent who needed help, only a quarter of people older than 65 said they would accept an invitation to live with their grown children.

Again, this works both ways. Some seniors who are able and enjoy being on their own are sometimes resentful when asked by a struggling adult child if they can move back in with Mom and/or Dad.

“I unfortunately hear pretty often from our clients that their adult children have moved back in, and the parent who’s in their 80s doesn’t want them there,” Rosanne Bernardy, executive director of the Ethel M. Hart Senior Center in Sacramento, tells the Mercury News.

Hovering over all of this is the pandemic. Seniors, more vulnerable to the virus, have to be extraordinarily careful about coming into contact with others, of course. This has no doubt kept some who were considering moving, or letting others move in with them, from doing so.

This isolation — the lockdown — has no doubt saved lives. But it is likely fueling other health problems. The Centers for Disease Control links social isolation with everything from greater risk of heart disease, obesity, to dementia, depression and suicide.

It is absolutely vital that seniors stay connected with their adult children and grandchildren. Video calls, phone calls, even for just a few minutes a day can make all the difference — I call my 83-year old mom every night, and my 8-year old daughter makes her laugh and says “We love you!” They both love it.

If you are a senior, if you are an adult son or daughter, reach out. Say hello. Send something fun in the mail — a book, a favorite snack. Be proactive. If you can’t physically be with them, let them know that you’re there in spirit.

Are you a senior who is living with your adult children? Are you an adult who is living with an aging parent? Tell me what has worked for you, what lessons you have learned, and what advice you have for others. And how are you coping during the pandemic? Please write to me at RetireBetterMarketWatch@gmail.com .

Paul Brandus is the White House bureau chief for West Wing Reports. You can follow him on Twitter WestWingReport.

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