When You Can No Longer Be The Family Caretaker: 5 Steps
Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA Tuesday, 25 June 2019
When we are young, it seems we and our parents will live forever. We don’t tend to spend much time on the harsh realities of what living a long life entails. Now, a lot of people are getting firsthand experience with the challenges of caring for elderly parents.
10% of adults aged 60-70 are caretakers to an elderly parent and the number jumps to 12% for adults over 70.1
Caring for a parent is straining both emotionally and financially for a lot of people. There will often be a breaking point where the current arrangement is no longer tenable and the parent may need more care than the children can provide, perhaps forcing a move to a long-term care facility or hospital. This can be a difficult and challenging conversation for family members to have, especially dealing with siblings who all have different ideas of what is best. This article will cover 5 tips to foster positive conversations and hopefully leave everyone walking away feeling like they’ve made the best choice possible.
One big reason for conflicts is that siblings have little training for this situation. Adult children have very little experience in arranging, scheduling, and emotionally handling the role reversal. On top of that, there is a lifetime of perceived slights, unresolved issues, and favoritism that can come to the fore. Siblings have often moved away from each other and established lives and families of their own. Now, they are forced to come together to make some very hard choices together. Having little reference, they tend to fall back into the familiar relationship patterns of childhood: for example, the bossy eldest, the favorite “baby”, or the forgotten middle child. In 90% of families, one child will take on the brunt of the caretaker responsibilities.2
In 64% of cases, it’s the youngest child that is the primary caretaker.3
If the caretaker in your family is you, then the first step is to be kind to yourself. Caretaking can be incredibly rewarding but also a draining experience. The second step is to tell yourself you’ve done all you can and believe it. Caretaking can be emotionally, financially, and physically taxing. Caring for an aging parent as you enter retirement age can also be extremely isolating. It is vital to understand that your health and happiness are equally important.
1. Schedule a Family Meeting
It’s time. For whatever reason, your own health, your finances, or another family member’s needs, it is time to change the arrangement caring for an aging parent. The next step is arranging a meeting with all the family. If this meeting could get heated, it may be worth bringing in a mediator of some sort to help. The goal of the meeting is to explain the situation, explain why it is no longer sustainable, and offer suggestions for the next chapter. For a meeting to work, all voices must be heard and opinions considered. It’s important to stay on track and focus on what is best for your parents from the current moment until their death, ensuring that their desires are known and being accommodated as much as possible.
2. Divide Tasks Based on Skills and Availability
Once a plan has been agreed upon, the next step is to divide up all the jobs that need doing and assign them. This arrangement can vary from family to family; for some, it works best to have one person focus on medical, another on basic needs like groceries and house management, and another on finances. If one sibling lives near, they will most likely do more of the face-to-face activities while a far away sibling may be better helping financially or with paperwork that can be handled online. The goal is for everyone to be involved, but not overextended. Some siblings may be able to offer more time, others more financial assistance, and others may be better at handling the emotional components like estate planning and medical decisions.
3. Put the Past Behind and Focus on the Future
It’s easy to fall back into old roles and resentments. Caring for loved ones can be quite an emotional minefield. However, the goal is to get elderly parents into safe and comfortable conditions while maintaining civil relationships and keeping your own head above water. Sound like a lot? It can be. Try to keep your focus on the future and on maintaining relationships with your family after your parents have passed away. Once stabilized, an elderly parent can live for a long time, so you may be doing this for some time. Finding a sustainable way to get over old hurts and be civil with your family in managing care is key.
4. Get Organized
You have a plan and everyone has their job. Arrange for regular check-ins and family meetings according to a schedule that works best for everybody (weekly, monthly, or quarterly). Ensure that the caretaking plan can be modified as needed, based on changing situations. Productive communication is key at all times.
5. Learn From the Experience
Now that you’ve cared for an ailing family member and been part of the team effort to support them, you can make better-informed choices about your own long-term care and lifestyle. Getting your own finances in order, updating your will and beneficiaries, and deciding on a power of attorney will alleviate some of the stress and burden for the next wave of family caretakers. You can also leverage your experience caring for an aging parent to make sure your own home is best suited to your changing needs. Using the experience as a caretaker to improve your later life is something of a gift.
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About the Author
Kathy Longo brings over 25 years of expertise and experience to Flourish Wealth Management. Kathy is wholly dedicated to improving the life of each client and finds joy in making complex matters simple and easy to understand. She excels at asking the right questions, uncovering new possibilities and implementing the most advantageous strategies for success. Playing such a pivotal role in her clients’ lives remains an honor and a privilege. After earning a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling from Purdue University, she began her career at a small firm in Palatine, Illinois where she worked directly with clients while learning to build a viable, client-centric business. Over the years, she gained extensive knowledge and wisdom working as a wealth manager, financial planner, firm manager and business owner at notable, various sized companies in both Chicago and Minneapolis.