An inevitable challenge of life, if you’re lucky enough to still have your parents, is managing the distance if they don’t live nearby. And if they’re beginning to need help, the miles can magnify the worry. But for adult children still working, the only feasible solution is usually moving the parents closer to you.
Leaving home isn’t easy, no matter the age. The challenge escalates when it’s the place where children were raised and years of memories were created. And if the move comes as the result of a recent injury, illness, or death of a spouse, it can easily feel like another loss in their life.
If we’re honest, our reaction probably won’t be much different from theirs when it’s our turn. In fact, three out of four people say they want to stay in their own home or age-in-place. But when that’s not possible, we’ll need a plan.
Avoiding these 5 mistakes can go a long way toward helping your parents create their new home.
1. Ignoring the reality
It’s not easy to see our parents need help or become frail. But if they do, it’s a part of life we’ll need to accept. Talk with them about their ability to handle all that’s necessary to keep their house running. Ask them if anything could make things easier. There are solutions but they must first acknowledge that there’s a problem.
2. Making decisions without them
Deciding whether they should move, be it should be to an assisted living facility or your home, is their decision to make, not yours. Unless they’re truly unable to consider their options or are in danger living alone, this needs to be their call. You can help gather information and be a sounding board, but the final choice should be theirs.
3. Promoting options without considering their preferences
An on-site dining room instead of a kitchen in their apartment might be a nice relief from cooking – except for someone who finds pleasure in preparing meals and entertaining her family and friends. Facilities often market to the kids so make sure the amenities are what your parents want. You may wish you had a heated pool, but your mom won’t benefit if she never liked to swim.
4. Minimizing the decision and what it means
Kids often insist their parents view the move as an exciting opportunity but this can add to the frustration. Acknowledge that you understand what moving really means. It’s not that easy to pick up and start over after leaving friends and a familiar community behind. Even if it’s for the best they may still be sad. Let them be.
5. Assuming a move is the only answer
At the first sign of a problem, it’s easy to suppose the only solution is moving. But are your parents really there yet? Get an outside opinion if you’re not sure. And consider all the options. Home and healthcare services, meal programs and companion visits can often fill in the gaps.
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Yet if moving is what needs to happen, remember to be patient as it will take time. Don’t underestimate the importance of home regardless of where that might be. Here are 5 ways to help your parents rebuild their new refuge.
1. Help them remain in control
Being included in all decisions and discussions goes a long way toward them remaining in control of their own lives. Whether they’ll be living in your home or somewhere else, your role is one of support. Home may be wherever we are but when we don’t have a say in where that is, adjusting will no doubt be an uphill battle.
2. They should choose what to bring with them
Although some kids think it’s less upsetting to pack up their parents’ home without them present, that’s rarely true. They should decide what stays and what goes. Some elders have sadly realized when they settled in their new room or home that what came with them were items they never liked or used, and some things they were fondly attached to were missing.
3. Help them prepare for the move
Whenever possible, make sure there is time to consider all the options. Talk to them about the opportunities the new place offers. Visit as many choices as possible together. Make sure they have plenty of information about the community and any recreational or volunteer opportunities that are available.
4. Recreate what they loved most about their home
Whether it was the furniture or decorations or the chance to garden, walk to a coffee shop, or have season tickets to their favorite sports team, try to find similar activities at their new place. Ask them what one or two things are most important and see if you can make it happen. Be creative and don’t forget that the really big bonus is that you will now be closer and can share some of these favorites with them.
5. Give the extra effort
Before they arrive, fill the refrigerator with their favorite foods. Plan ahead to take them out to explore their new community. Help them create daily activities they’ll look forward to, like taking an evening walk with them or feeding the birds and having coffee every morning. This can help establish rituals they’ll enjoy even alone.
It’s not only unfortunate when an elder parent is uprooted without time to adjust but it can also lead to relocation stress syndrome. This is the result of not only transitioning to a different phase in life but simultaneously to an unfamiliar environment. Possible negative consequences can be both physical and emotional and are triggered by the person feeling like they’ve lost control. The best place to start is taking any steps that can help minimize that experience.
Growing older isn’t easy, whether it’s our aging or our parents. Young or old, at the end of the day, we all need a sanctuary to return to. “The ache for home lives in all of us,” Maya Angelou once wrote, tapping a familiar emotion I’d guess we’ve all known.
There’s no doubt that helping parents rebuild their home might be one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. But maybe the biggest gift we can give is to guide their way so they can find that place one more time.
This article originally appeared on the Worthy blog. Worthy is an online auction platform helping people sell unwanted jewelry in a smart, easy, secure way.