When my parents downsized, it changed my life. For years I’d been hoping they’d move to a smaller space—one that wouldn’t require all the upkeep of the Vaughan home they’d been living in for decades.
I’ve written all about the journey that the three of us went on before—the disagreements, the slow progress, and (finally) the joy we all felt when they found the perfect little condo! While I happily shared my perspective, one thing I could have been more vocal about is the emotions I felt during the process.
If you’re trying to help your senior parents downsize (or “right-size,” as I call it), you may not be taking the time to consider your own feelings. I get it! When your loved ones are facing a challenge, reflecting on how you feel can seem a little bit, well…selfish. I’m here to tell you it’s not. The truth is, checking in with yourself will allow you to remain clear headed—and that’s going to help everybody in the long run.
When you’re helping your parents downsize, here are five emotional challenges to be ready for.
1) Being the caretaker
Many of us are used to being caretakers—whether we’re caring for our children, our friends, or other people close to us. But when it comes to mom and dad, it feels different. It certainly felt that way for me.
The role reversal is bound to feel a bit odd. You suddenly find yourself taking charge of your aging parents, hoping they will listen to your advice and see that you are an adult capable of making decisions. When my parents finally agreed to downsize, they handed me the reins. They gave me complete control over the situation—and it was humbling. I knew they believed in me and my ability to help them make the right decisions. I also knew it was a big responsibility. Whatever I did, I would never feel like it was quite enough.
I’ve been helping families downsize for a long time. I know the process inside and out—and even I was feeling overwhelmed. So believe me when I say, we all experience it. If you find yourself in this position, remember to trust in the faith that your parents have placed in you. Being informed about the downsizing process and its benefits—and ready to provide guidance based on what you’ve learned—is the first step.
2) Overcoming stigma
In many families, there are unspoken rules about how adults should treat their parents. Coming from an Italian background, I was culturally taught to respect my elders—especially close relatives. So when I decided to talk to my parents about downsizing, I was worried that they might see it as disrespectful.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: there were fights. And no matter what your background is, you might argue with your parents, too. They may feel like you’re overstepping your bounds. The good news is, as we get older, we also become wiser and that wisdom can (eventually) open the door to some very productive discussions.
When you talk to your parents, don’t lose sight of the fact that they’re adults. Their senior years have earned them insight into life lessons and experiences. Treat the discussion like a two-way conversation. Highlight the practical aspects of downsizing, like the extra time and money they stand to gain. Listen to their objections. There are so many different reasons that your mom or dad may be resistant to the process, and you can really only get to the root of their hesitancy by asking them how they feel. Openness, honesty, and respect can go a long way!
3) Suggesting lifestyle changes
A lot of senior citizens are set in their ways, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Often, it just means they’re happy and they don’t want things to change.
It goes without saying that downsizing often leads to some pretty major lifestyle adjustments. If budget is a deciding factor, you may find that convincing your parents to cut back on expenses is both awkward and, if they’re deeply attached to their way of life, downright painful.
Of course, it’s not always about money. For my parents, the issues were health-related. My dad has been dealing with some major challenges—including the news that he needs a double knee replacement—and that made managing a large home difficult. While my mom is an incredible woman, she can’t do it all. My point is, no matter the reason for a big lifestyle change, making it can be difficult.
My advice? Ease your parents into the process. Though my mom and dad were resistant at first, the tide turned as soon as they saw the unit that would become their next dream home! So be gentle, but be persistent—and don’t forget the value of having “the talk” early on. All too often, we scramble to adapt to a situation, as opposed to relying on a solid plan we’ve already created.
4) Looking at the practical
Thinking about the financial aspects of downsizing just makes sense. When I was helping my parents through the process, I spent a whole lot of time doing the math.
There’s nothing wrong with working out the potential return your mom and dad can get on their home investment. I’d argue that it’s actually one of the greatest gifts you can give them. But when our loved ones are wrestling with a major emotional challenge, it can also feel a bit insensitive to focus on logistics.
Whether you’re thinking through budgetary constraints or hunting for an agent with downsizing expertise, remember that you’re doing it all for some very good reasons: to secure your parents’ future and make their day-to-day life easier and more comfortable!
5) Your own feelings
I’ve talked a lot about the feelings you might have toward your parents during the downsizing process—from empathy to frustration and everything in between. You may struggle with the weight of your own expectations. It’s really important to take stock of your personal feelings, independent of mom and dad.
If the house your parents are living in now is where you grew up, you probably have your own attachment to it. Saying goodbye to a place you once called home can be difficult, even if you haven’t lived there in a long time.
Watching your mom and dad move on to the next stage in life may also get you thinking about your future. We’re all getting older, and most of us experience at least a little bit of anxiety about it from time to time.
The important thing to remember is there’s no wrong way to feel. While you’re helping out your loved ones, don’t forget to take a moment for yourself—whether that means honouring childhood memories, starting to think about your future, or simply finding a way to decompress.
Helping your parents through the downsizing process? I’d love to take a few minutes to talk. If you have questions—or you’re ready to take the first step—I’m here. Give me a call at 416-550-7555 or reach out at Lisa@LisaSinopoli.com