As the population ages, many Britons will end up living with their parents again. Annalisa Barbieri wonders what happens when the parent/child relationship is reversed.
I've long had a dream, which others have laughed at, of living with my parents. This was one of the first signs, to me, that I was different to my English friends. I wanted to live as close to my family as possible, for as long as possible. They all seemed in a rush to live apart. My parents always made it clear to me that I was welcome in the family home for as long as I needed to be and would always be welcome back. I blanched when I heard some of my friends' parents say things like, "You're eighteen now, we've done our bit, you're on your own". I wondered what would happen when those parents, as elderly people, needed to fall back on the care of their offspring.
In rural Italy, it's not at all unusual to live with your parents for a really long time, and then reverse the roles and build your own house with room in it to move mamma and papa in, way before mamma and papa get old. The furthest apart people tend to go is buying two flats in the same block.
I moved out of the family home when I was 22 and, us living in central London, not the mountains of Italy, we've - thus far - never lived together again. Two years ago when I moved out to the country and bought a house, it was with one eye on my parents possibly 'retiring' here too. However, despite me begging them to come and live with us, my mother has no desire at all to move from her west London mansion flat - though I think I could lure my father out with the promise of his own wine-making facilities and a brick pizza oven.
For the first time since records began, there are now more people aged 65 in Britain than those under the age of 16. This means more people than ever before will end up living with their elderly parents, either because they couldn't afford to move out in the first place or because said elderly parents move in with their children. (And yes, I know that lots of older people are perfectly happy to look after themselves and/or want to go and living in a nursing home when the time comes.)
So what do you do if this is your situation? Well, hopefully, approach it with grace and thought. The key to success is having room. Space to house them, and doing it with due care and attention to their needs and likes as well as your own, is key to living with your aged parents without you all ending up hating each other. Not thinking ahead and then feeling like you've had them, or your in-laws, foisted upon you, is a miserable existence for all. Remember, however set in your ways you are, your parents and in-laws will be even more set in theirs.
Naturally, money makes it easier. The ideal is a 'granny' flat or annexe for togetherness with a degree of separation, but not everyone can manage that. If you're really organised, and there are liquid assets, remember that a gift of money from a parent to a child is a good way to avoid inheritance tax (if their estate will be worth more than £325,000). The reason you have to be organised is that seven years have to pass before the gift is exempt from inheritance tax; but bear in mind that after three years the amount of tax tapers (80% of it is liable for the full charge after three to four years and it goes down every year after that in 20% chunks until at post-seven years it's all free of IT).
I recently interviewed an architect who, although still extremely fit and healthy and only in his sixties, had sold his large family home and built a new house. It was two storeys high but the living and sleeping quarters were all at ground level, with wide doors for any wheelchair access that may be needed, and a very low-maintenance garden. The special 'when we grow old' details were entirely invisible until they were pointed out. "In the event that we need looking after, we will live downstairs," he told me, "and any carers we need will live upstairs." Some people are amazingly forward thinking.
A few year ago, I wrote about how France was looking into building nursing homes in the same complexes as crèches and nurseries so that the "young and old will mix, the old providing attention and calm, the young keeping the elders active and learning that old people are just old-er people." You get the same benefits if you have the grandparents (and there are 14 million grandparents in Britain today) actually living with you. I don't pretend it's easy, or that everyone has the space. But with some foresight it can be hugely beneficial.
My childhood was spent living May-October in Italy, with my grandparents. I adored listening to their stories. I loved how boring household chores, such as shelling peas or making gnocchi, or even the startling ones like gutting and de-heading eels, could be transformed by the attentions of my grandparents. Of course, it wasn't all fun. There were huge rows, especially between my mother and her mother-in-law.
The end wasn't pretty either, although naturally, being a child, I was sheltered from the daily grind of being a carer. I was deemed too young to change my maternal grandmother's nappies (and feel disloyal even mentioning that such a proud and magnificent woman had to wear them, but she was bedridden in the end), but I used to give her manicures and comb her hair. My paternal grandfather ended up in a wheelchair and I could instinctively tell when he had to go to the loo and would leave the room so he could pee in his bottle.
I present these examples not to suggest that I know what it's like to care for an older person - I was only an onlooker - but because for the child I was, it was important to see the not-so-good side of ageing, and to learn how people could care for one another and make the whole thing a lot easier. Not least, it was fantastic to have so many generations in the same house, because all of us had something to offer.
No one likes to think of their parents getting old and the parent/child relationship reversing. I get tetchy when my mother so much as mentions she is not feeling her best. I don't ever want to think of my super-strong, capable father as being anything other than the dad who can still climb trees and lift things for me; or my mother as not being able to make delicious food or darn my jumper. But one day, unless they go to bed one night fit and happy and die in their sleep, they may need to live with me. They may need me to look after them. And I will be there for them, as they have always been there for me.
Do your parents or in-laws live with you or you stay with your parents/grandparents ? Share your experiences
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