Flowers by the Windowsill

Senior Roommates

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I am 79, pretty active, and my health is good, all things considered. I’ve been a widow for 12 years. My home for nearly forty years is paid off. My four children and eight grandchildren live elsewhere.

I am having trouble living on my fixed income. I have always lived within my means but things are just so expensive these days. I don’t have credit card debt. If I can’t afford something, I just don’t buy it.

I’ve been thinking that it might make sense to take in a roommate, maybe even two. I have a four bedroom, two bathroom house and it’s in a nice, quiet, safe neighborhood. There must be other women who would like this kind of arrangement, not just to save money but to have some company. There are times I hate rattling around in this big, old empty house.

I have two questions for you: 1) How do I get my kids to approve of this idea? Well, two of them do but the other two worry about things like how could they visit “with strangers the house” or the fact that our big holiday celebrations in “their home”  wouldn’t ever be the same, and 2) How would I ever find compatible women? I’d want to be very sure we all got along – how would I know if we were a good match? Thank you.


Dear Reader,

You have identified some very good reasons to consider renting out rooms to other women who may be facing similar challenges. I applaud your creative problem solving!

It’s not surprising that two of your children are having difficulties accepting this turn of events. I feel for them. Their reactions reflect an understandable attachment to the family home and long standing family traditions. I don’t know if you can get their approval but a good way to begin would be by understanding what it is they are experiencing, a normal reaction to loss.

I’m sure you saw each of your children experience the loss of their father in similar, yet perhaps, very different ways. And while the death of a beloved father is far greater than the loss of a familiar and treasured lifestyle, loosing traditions can still leave all of you experiencing loss.

Any type of loss typically involves five primary emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You may see each of your children, especially the two who are expressing the most distress over your plan to take in roommates, experience these feelings in their own way.

Denial is a normal reaction to the reality that your family traditions will be different. It is a defense mechanism that buffers your children from the shock of facing the changes in what has always been.

It sounds as though you may have already been on the receiving end of anger. Rationally, I imagine your children understand the benefits of what you are proposing. I’m sure they don’t want their mother to struggle financially, nor emotionally.  In spite of this, they may resent you for changing their lives. This resentment can lead to  guilt, which may lead to more anger. It can be a vicious cycle!

At some point, your children may try bargaining. If you begin to hear statements that begin with “what if “ or “if only” you’ll know your children are trying to preserve what has been.

The degree to which your children feel any depression will depend on so many things. They may be mildly sad to thoroughly depressed. Watch and listen for their feelings of sadness. Acknowledge their feelings, let them express their sadness while knowing that their grief doesn’t mean you need to change your plans.

Finally, I sincerely hope that your children eventually accept that their mother needs to make these adaptations in order to have a better life. What you are considering can be so beneficial, which should be of primary importance to you and all of your family!

To be continued …

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