When A Widow Has to Move in With A Family Member

By LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, Ed.D, MSS

It’s not unusual for surviving spouses to move in with adult children and family. Sometimes, the surviving spouse has financial or health needs. Regardless of the reasons for becoming a “sandwich generation” family where grandparents, parents and children all live together, this newly formed family must develop House Rules.

Pro-active families have most likely already developed chores and expectations for their children, and they should now develop new ones in response to the changes in the family. For example, widows might be expected to take care of their own linens or buy their own food.

Often, the widowed parent moves in with the extended family because he or she requires assistance with living. The widowed person might be physically fragile or mentally limited due to events such as strokes or the onset of dementia. Families, as well as the widower or widower, frequently underestimate these medical needs and are later frustrated at the demands of care.

Consequently, the addition of the widowed parent means that the House Rules need to be adjusted to the new circumstances, especially emotional issues. Usually, when a widowed parent moves into the adult child’s home, the current or dormant problems in the parent-child relationship get activated. For example, if the parent and adult child are—or were–argumentative and critical of each other, they risk bringing that kind of relationship into the adult child’s home.

The surviving widows, adult children and grandchildren should develop together new guidelines of behavior and words—and post them in the kitchen. Instead of singling out one person and seeing that person in a negative light, families can come together and write rules that build positive behaviors and beliefs.

Keep the focus on solutions-with-love rather than complaints. Examples of emotional House Rules might include:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Respect differences.
  3. No unsolicited advice.
  4. No criticism.
  5. No secrets.
  6. Be a role model.
  7. Don’t tattle. Instead, ask the person how the two of you can work on a solution together.
  8. Everyone is in charge of his or her happiness.
  9. See offers to help in areas such as medical or physical needs as offers of care and love—and not control.
  10. Seek nursing, medical or psychological help as soon as you feel frustrated or overwhelmed or when your solutions aren’t working.

Widowhood may be an expected life phase, but experiencing it is never easy for any of the family members. Hopefully, these answers will help you start thinking and acting differently.


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