All of us know a little old lady that lives in a big house around the corner all alone. She keeps her lovely home immaculate, walks to the shops every day (for one item) and is always well turned out and colour co-ordinated (and we notice this because we never are). For some of us she'll be a happy local treasure, for others a total rascal that keeps everyone on their toes but everyone will know her. Neighbours marvel at her rattling around in that big old house seemingly without any help and you can't make up your mind whether you think she's bat crazy for wanting to stay there all alone or superhero independent and so to be revered. She's fierce, capable and calling her own shots: everything you hope to be when you reach a certain age.
Unless she's your mum.
See for your neighbour who barks hello every day and tally ho's her umbrella at you as she marches by, living alone in a 3 bed semi that has had the same electrics for 50 years (leave it be, it all works just fine) is perfectly acceptable. You can see she's capable of taking the rubbish out and kicking rogue traders off her doorstep because all you see is the steely look in her eye, the sharp elbows and the quick witted response she gives the school kids who show a bit of cheek. But for your mum it's different, because, well, she's your mum.
You can see that your mum isn't quite as steady on her feet as she used to be and you can tell that whilst she isn't in danger of leaving the gas on all night, she is starting to misplace things here and there. Whilst her neighbours watch her bustle around happily every day you see the one cup, one plate and one knife and fork in the drying rack when you visit and you know you'll be her only real company for another few days. That hurts and despite promising yourself every time you leave that you won't leave it so long next time life does get in the way and before you know it another week has passed. You go back and the house, it's contents and your mum are all exactly the same, living through groundhog after groundhog day. Every time you visit you resolve to say something to get the ball rolling on what should be next for her and every time you leave again not having had the courage to do it because you don't want to upset her, understandably so. And whilst you climb in the car again and drive away kicking yourself for being the worst child in the world, she waves you off proud as punch at how busy your life is and how well you have done with neither of you having any idea what the other is thinking.
There's a huge sense of duty to our parents as they get older and yet no one ever prepares us fully for how we can start taking steps to look after them properly without causing them upset, embarrassment or inconvenience. It is a minefield but the guilt you are carrying around every day is senseless if you don't even know what your mum's thoughts are on moving.
Here's 7 steps to downsizing Mum (or Dad, or both!) the guilt free way:
1) Accept that this isn't ever going to happen overnight
You'll start seeing the signs that perhaps the house is too much for her long before she does, be prepared for that. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to move her when she is ready, not when you are ready. A softly, softly approach is required and it takes as long as it takes, be patient.
2) Ask her if she is still confident at home
This sounds so obvious but is sometimes the hardest question to ask and be careful - it has huge potential to go the wrong way. Don't ask this question when she has recently had a scare of some sort at home (a fall for instance) as you will be inadvertently insinuating that she is no longer able to cope when she is already worrying over that herself. None of us like the obvious pointed out and your mum has spent your whole life being the fixer of your problems, this change of direction needs to be managed gently. Ask this question before things go wrong or bite your tongue until a recent incident has passed so that she can give you a balanced response. If her answer is yes, that's great, don't push her. If you remain worried perhaps sort a bit of an informal schedule with family and friends to visit more and resolve to bring moving home into the conversation here and there over the coming months to see if the position changes. If however she advises that she is not as confident at home as she would like to be, read on.
3) Ask her if she has ever considered downsizing and if so what would be her favoured option
Personally, having worked in the industry and seen lots of retirees move, I know that my final property purchase will be a retirement apartment and ideally at around age 75. When I pack up my family home and move on I want to do so when I am still good and able to not only control the move, but also enjoy meeting new people and settling into a community of (hopefully) likeminded folk whilst still having my own privacy. However that isn't necessarily going to work for your mum. She might want home help, a bungalow or an annexe at yours and it is important that you get this bit right as a result. Don't move an independent mum into your house to ease your misplaced guilt: remember this exercise is about getting what she thinks is good for her, not what you think is good for her. When you know her preferences:
4) Look at her options
We recently organised downsizing for a lady that had decided that she wanted to move but was very specific about her needs. She didn't want to change doctors or her church and she didn't want less than two bedrooms but she specifically wanted a retirement apartment in a block with communal living so she could socialise if she wanted to. Two bed apartments in retirement blocks are hard to come by and so we had to do a lot of research, registering and ringing around. Get a definitive list of what she simply cannot live without in her move and ensure that you either ring listings yourself or get the help of a friendly agent that won't add your mum to some office list that sees her bombarded with junk mail and calls to get her marketed.
5) Agree a plan with her
This could take a while - don't try to rush. For our recent downsizer the decision to move took over 2 years and because we knew she was very cautious, instead of selling her property first in the traditional way and then dragging her around on various viewing escapades, we didn't sell her property until we had found her the perfect purchase. This gave all of us the confidence that the choice she made when selecting her property was not based on the fear of being homeless because her house was sold: she knew she could take her time and we would keep going until the right property came up for her. If your mum is looking at a retirement apartment you will have the luxury of being able to do the same because they take a while to sell and as such vendors will wait for her to sell her home. However if she is looking for a bungalow or smaller property you may find it safer to engage an agents opinion of her home saleability first so you know what kind of timescales are involved should you see the perfect bungalow and need to move fast.
6) Put the right person in charge of helping her complete her move
If you already lead a very busy existence it is unlikely that you will be able to oversee your mum's sale completely from start to finish. As the process itself is complicated and intimidating at the best of times it is definitely a must for you to ensure that someone is there to assist your mum every step of the way. Whether that be another family member, friend or a trusted agent ensure that above all else your mum is comfortable with that person and will ask for help when she needs it. The stress of not knowing what a letter from a solicitor means can be resolved with a visit from her friend or agent to put her mind at rest - ensure she has access to that so the move doesn't upset her anymore than it has to.
7) Accept there will be tears
Remember leaving home? This move is bigger than your moving out into the real world ever was and if you are anything like me the excitement was great but so was the sadness and fear. Remember how much she is leaving behind and make a big deal out of it so that she works through the process properly and therefore without regret.
The hardest part is getting started
As you can see and probably already know, this is never going to be an overnight decision and the truth is your best approach will always depend on what sort of personality your mum has. If you know she is slow to make decisions work slowly with her whilst you still can, it is better to start gently steering her thought process now than to have to make rash decisions for her safety after a fall or security incident. If your approach causes friction and it is clear that she is in no way ready to move home make other arrangements to ease your guilt such as visiting more frequently or encouraging new activities in the local area. Whatever your approach, treat this as an ongoing matter that needs constant review.
Not the right person for the job?
I know a lady of a certain age that only responds well to men. I can ask her anything and get a no, Scott can sidle up 5 minutes later and ask the same question and get an instant yes. If you know your mum to be of this nature and a no will fall out of her mouth just because you asked, get someone else to do the asking. With the lady I spoke of earlier, I had nothing to do with her process until she had started to move to the maybe camp and even then I was only involved on the understanding that she was only thinking of moving. Until then it had been her friend discussing it with her and in all honesty when the discussions started two years ago she was never going to move. Don't make the mistake of shoving a super keen agent down her throat and don't let anyone lead the way that naturally antagonises her. Whilst she isn't a child, this is her last most largest decision to make and as such its implications are far reaching: put whoever she is most comfortable with in charge.