This past March marked 29 years that my mother-in-law has lived with my wife and me. That's correct. I have lived with my mother-in-law for almost three decades! I have been called both crazy and a saint.
As a widow in her mid 60s and living close by, it made perfect sense to the three of us to bring the two households together. For my mother-in-law, she no longer had to worry about caring for a house and being alone. For us, we had a built-in babysitter for our two young sons and someone who could run some errands as we were both building our careers. Though clearly more of a win for us at that time, my wife and I had no delusions that someday the tables of dependency would turn.
Having a parent/grandparent in the house can be both a challenge and a blessing. Yes, as in any relationship, we have had our ups and downs, disagreements and temper flares. But the bond my sons have with their "Bubby" (as she is now known to all who know her) is irreplaceable and the experience and wisdom of an "elder" has often come in handy.
In July my mother-in-law will turn 95 and time has taken its toll. Though quite cognitively intact, severe arthritis has affected her functionality. She lives with chronic pain, has significant difficulty in getting up from a chair and has needed a rolling walker for over a decade. Even with the walker, her stability is marginal. She has had several falls, fortunately without serious injury. For the past three years, we have had a companion in the house during the day while my wife and I are at work. More recently, my wife assists her with showering and occasionally helps manage her personal care.
Anyone who has cared for an elderly parent in their home knows that doing so can be quite stressful. In addition to assisting with any personal needs, the daily routine includes staying on top of medication management, arranging for medical care, providing a safe environment, managing finances, arranging for care when you're away and providing adequate social interactions. A number of studies have shown that caregivers have an increase in anxiety, depression and musculoskeletal disorders. I have seen this firsthand as there are times when my wife is obviously stressed, trying to meet the demands of her mom after working a full day.
Over the years I have found several ways that help keep the stress level manageable:
- Divide responsibilities: For example, my wife manages personal needs and doctor's appointments; I manage medications and finances.
- Communicate: We take the time to discuss and assess how we are doing emotionally.
- Take a break: The occasional night out or weekend getaway keeps our lives in perspective.
There is no question that caring for an elderly parent at home is a challenge and adds to the already full responsibilities that we all have in our lives. But the satisfaction of knowing that you are providing the best care that you can far outweighs any downside. For my wife and I, my mother-in-law gave a lot to us in our younger days; now, it's our turn. Stresses aside, I know that when she is no longer around, there will be an emptiness in our hearts and in our home.