Bekah Steenbock
what is a mother-in-law apartment

Taking care of your aging parents is an emotional and challenging task. We want our parents to maintain their independence as long as possible . . . with as little risk as possible, from scares like falls. When parents don't need the constant care of an assisted-living home, but you want to make sure they’re looked after what do you do? Consider a mother-in-law apartment. 

What is a mother-in-law apartment?

According to Miriam Webster, a mother-in-law apartment is “a small apartment that is part of or next to a house and that is used especially as a place for an older relative to live.” This can look different in every home. Some are garage apartments or built more like a duplex. Others are on the property, but separate from the main house.

Near You

The perfect alternative: An apartment near you

A variation of this would be an apartment within short walking distance of your own home or apartment. There’s no way to overstate the convenience of this type of arrangement.

If your parent isn't yet needing professional care, but needs (or wants) daily or occasional checking on, having mom or dad in an adjacent or nearby apartment is a real blessing. If you can walk a few steps to drop off a meal, fix a tv remote control or answer a question about a mobile phone, life is COMPLETELY different than if you have to drive 15-20 minutes each way for a two-minute task. Having a parent nearby allows you to pop in to say hello for a couple of minutes when it's convenient for YOU, which means it happens more OFTEN, which means your parents feel better cared for.  It's truly a win-win.

Related: What to look for, in apartments for seniors


Why consider a mother-in-law living arrangement?

This is a great option for parents (or a surviving parent) who may be getting up in years but is still very independent. A mother-in-law apartment is great for the peace of mind of the adult children and the parent. You can make sure mom and/or dad are safe but they feel like they’re still fully in control of their life. Change can be very hard for seniors, and this type of housing can easily weather the transition as health needs change. With a mother-in-law apartment, a companion or nurse can be hired to help care for a parent in his or her own space, which is comforting to all.

Related: Decorating a senior's apartment

Which is better: a mother-in-law apartment or senior housing?

The best thing about the mother-in-law unit is the proximity to you without forgoing too much privacy. However, if your parents thrive on constant sociability with their peers, you may want to consider a senior apartment. These communities will frequently offer activities which take place in a nearby community room within the complex. They’re also accommodating when it comes to live-in caregivers as well. The best choice for your family depends on your parent's personality, and on your budget. Proximity to you is also key. If being near you provides the most comfort of all, but senior housing is far away, then a nearby apartment might be better.

Privacy for both parties

As much as your mother or mother-in-law loves the idea of being near family and grandchildren, she still needs her privacy. A mother-in-law home allows her to decorate how she wants and take a break when she needs too. This is good for you too so you don't step on each other's toes. You also need your privacy, so separate quarters for mom means your personal time and space is still there.

Physical comfort for both parties

There's no denying it. For most adults, the older we get, the warmer we like the temperature to be.  It's a very tough situation for a daughter in her mid-life to try to live with a senior parent who wants it warm. The daughter prefers 70 degree rooms, the parent likes them closer to 78. No one is ever happy.  Having your parents in a separate apartment, with separate temperature controls, is ideal for everyone's comfort.

Related: How to select a senior's apartment

Beware the emotional transition

When a parent has been in the same house for years, it can be very difficult to let go. The mother-in-law apartment allows mom to make an easier emotional transition into her new home. If she were living with you, she would not have all the familiar tangible items that feel like home to her.

Downsizing from a home to a mother-in-law apartment can be an emotional roller coaster for seniors. Try to obtain a moving company or a professional who specializes in moving seniors. These companies and individuals go to extra lengths to try to make the move as stress-free as possible, and they know the most common emotional hazards.

A mother-in-law unit can be a great way for adult children to keep parents close by. It allows for privacy and independence for you and your parents while offering a substantial amount of security. Caring for elderly parents can be difficult, but the mother-in-law unit makes the process much easier for everyone.



About The Author

Bekah Steenbock is a freelance writer with a background in real-estate and business growth. She is a native Austinite, but has called Seattle, Mankato, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Atlanta home. Bekah, her husband, and their three children love exploring the outdoors in their spare time.