For those in what we call “midlife”, somewhere between 45 and 65 years of age, there is a hidden crisis many face. It’s not suddenly wanting to re-make your life nor taking an abrupt turn in your relationship with your significant other. Rather, it’s the pressure of feeling obligated to take care of both aging parents and adult kids. That pressure can easily reach a crisis point, particularly when the needs of aging loved ones demand enormous amounts of time.
Generally, we think of midlife as a time of change, with empty nest, and nearing retirement, having dreams of how things will be when the routine of our working lives will be behind us. But then, those dreams meet reality. Mom and Dad may live far longer than they or you planned. Their physical health, mental competency or both begin to decline or fail. They need help and have insufficient resources to pay for it. No one ever talked about what would happen under those conditions. Kids in college or those who have moved back in with you, as well as your aging loved ones all need something from you at the same time. You didn’t plan on continuing to support those kids financially after a certain age. But the Great Recession affected so many of them, millennials particularly. (I have two millennial children). Some didn’t have good jobs, some lost the jobs they had and some can’t seem to find their way to being self-supporting. This midlife crisis is about simultaneously having to pay for care or give care personally to your aging loved ones while your adult children also create a financial drain on you.
Grandma, daughter and grandchild
We do have the Family Medical Leave Act which allows you to keep your job when you have to take time off to care for your aging parents. But there are restrictions, the biggest that your leave is unpaid. Sure, take time off just when you need extra money to help your parents.
Is there any way to reduce the stress of these crisis-making situations? Yes, but it takes a lot of advance planning. Here are some thoughts we’ve come up with in speaking with the adult children of aging parents who also have kids at home or in college in our work at AgingParents.com. They are in distress. They need guidance and we offer it, but sometimes lack of planning leaves little choice about what to do. Talking over the needs of aging parents and adult children with all involved is paramount. Consider these steps:
Communicate with your aging loved ones when they reach retirement age. What savings do they have and what does it cost them to live and pay for medical expenses? Explore what it would be like if they lived to statistical life expectancy. Could they support themselves and pay for care if needed? If not, then what?
Communicate with adult children or college-aged kids of your own. Moving back in with you to save money might not be in the cards. Explain the reality for you right now if grandma or grandpa need your financial help. Expect adult children to figure out their own financial path. You are not the bank for them forever unless you choose that. What I suggest here is to take a stand and insist that everyone works.
Expect that anyone over age 80 or so may need help at some point with something. How many people do you know at that age who do not need any assistance whatsoever with any part of their lives? Not many, I’ll bet. Are you to be the one or the only one to render needed help? Discuss all your options with other family members. When you get agreements about who could do what to help in advance, not in a time of crisis, fights in families are less likely.
In my own family, with a mother in law who lived to be 96, the problem was not financial, but a management one. She needed a lot of help managing her own investments and cash flow, getting to doctors, hiring caregivers, learning how to adjust to selling her house and moving to an apartment, coping with decreased vision and hearing and many other parts of life. It was indeed time consuming. With two millennial kids trying to get a foothold in their careers at the same time, we were often stressed. I could see from that experience that our financial help to our kids at one time or another during the declining years of mom’s life would have been a very heavy burden if we also had to shell out cash each month to keep mom going. We escaped the double whammy because of the blessing of prudent financial planning mom did and our ongoing financial oversight during the last 15 years of her life. That kept her from making money mistakes or getting ripped off when she was most vulnerable. There were some close calls that could have wiped her out.
The takeaway is that none of us can predict how long aging parents will live nor if our adult children will need our financial support. The best strategy is to plan on what to do by looking ahead in case your midlife crisis emerges.
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