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Live-In Family Members Can Put Strain on Elderly

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am 73 years old and live in a small apartment with two grown daughters and an 18-year old grandson.  The daughter in her 50s is working for minimum wage and contributes financially.  The daughter in her 40s recently moved in with me since she lost her job.  Our monthly income is about $3,600.  I dread going to the mail box to pick up the next utility bill I can’t afford to pay.  And my age seems to be a deterrent in finding a job.  How can I continue to cope with this emotional stress?     

Answer: You definitely are facing challenges that are financially and emotionally taxing.  In the seventh decade of life, one would hope for a little stability, freedom and some choices, as well as self-sufficient adult children.

Given that we are living in a time of change and flux, these expectations often are postponed.

Older parents have become a source of stability for their adult children, particularly when their children are unemployed.  A survey by AARP found that one-fourth of Generation Xers, those age 28 to 39, receive financial help from family and friends.  Although your adult children are older, the trend of parental support is clear.

A September 2008 article in USA Today stated it well: “In the 1990s your family came for dinner.  Now they are moving in.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of parents, siblings and other relatives living with the adult head of the household grew 42 percent from 2000 to 2007.

A big part of the story is about  jobs. Given that there are 6.2 job seekers for every job opening in the U.S., the competition is fierce.  This suggests that members of your family need to know what they can do best and then have the skills to compete.  And if they don’t have the skills, they need to acquire them through training.

Knowing where to look for opportunities is key.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic reports on occupations with the largest growth as projected from 2008 to 2018.

Here are just a few:  Registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives, food preparation and serving workers, personal and home care aides, retail salespersons, office clerks, nursing aides, accountants and auditors, orderlies and attendants and construction laborers.  Some of these require short-term on-the-job-training.

One source of work opportunities is CalJOBS at, part of California’s Employment Development Department.  The site provides postings for both employers and job seekers.

Assess if your family is devoting adequate time to the job search.  If not, encourage them to make this effort as full time as possible.

To fill the void prior to that “real” job, odd and temporary jobs count. For example, your 18- year-old grandson might consider dog walking, house sitting, taking care of someone’s garden while on vacation or cleaning and organizing someone’s garage.  Your adult children might look into babysitting and child care.

Let’s now discuss stress.  Increased income would likely decrease the pressure and anxiety.  Other stresses can come from three generations living together.  Here are several suggestions to prevent or mitigate difficult situations:

Establish a clear set of expectations:
Determine each member’s obligations for financial contributions and rent if appropriate.

Determine tasks and responsibilities:
Develop a division of labor. There is always work to be done to maintain  a household – shopping, cooking, cleaning and bill paying to name a few.

Hold family meetings:
Keep track of  how everyone is doing in the family.  Identify little problems before they blow up.  Subjects might include privacy, shared space, food and music preferences and perceived wastes of time, energy or resources.

Make time to give back:
Contributing to the betterment of others keeps life’s challenges in perspective.  It also helps one retain feelings of self-worth and at the same time provides an important service to those less fortunate.

Thank you for your important question.   Best wishes in finding ways to increase your income, to make your family members part of the solution and to decrease your stress.  Hopefully stability, freedom and more choices will become realities.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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