Should Your Kids Take Care Of You?

Last week I contacted my attorney’s firm to make an appointment with him to review our wills. He was no longer with the firm. He gave up his practice and moved cross-country to help his aging parents. What a good son we would all say. And, boy oh boy, is he! He now gets to start over building a legal practice after he passes the bar in another state. Perhaps there is more to the story than what is readily apparent.

But, this reminded me of another day when I sat at lunch with two friends — two childless friends. Somehow the subject of assisted living came up. To my surprise, as we discussed the concept, my lunch mates mentioned how they would be living in such a community one day.

“I plan on aging in place.” I chirped. “Hopefully, I won’t ever go to any type of assisted living.”

Almost simultaneously they both turned to me and said, “Well, of course you won’t. You have children to take care of you.”

Huh? What? Their expectation that my children would care for me was equally surprising. I certainly didn’t have that expectation. My children are my family, part of my emotional support system, but I didn’t have them so they could take care of me in old age.

The primary reason for my planning for independence is my children. I’d like for them to live unfettered with my care. They have their own lives, spouses, children and now, my oldest daughter, has her very first grandchild. Taking care of myself is the best gift I can give them.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be involved in their lives. It means I do everything in my power to remain independent physically, mentally and financially. Contrary to my friends’ assumptions, people with children are no different, than those of us without children. Expecting a child to care for you in old age is expecting them to give up a part of their independence for you.

I grew up knowing a woman who did not have a career, marry or have friends of her own as she spent much of her adult life caring for her parents and a niece who lived with them. Even as a child, I could see she was unhappy with her life. All the neighborhood kids called her “Aunt Ann”.  Even that didn’t bring a smile to her face. Eventually, the niece grew up and moved out. The woman’s father and then her mother passed away. People asked her what she would do now. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died before she could answer that question. I’m sure this childhood experience colored my view of remaining independent.

We, as parents, should never expect our kids to resign from their lives to care for us. It is up to us to care for us. We owe it to our children to stay physically active, to eat a healthy diet, to pursue our passions, to stay mentally sharp, to develop a community of friends of our own, to stay spiritually true to ourselves. And, if necessary, live in an assisted living community.  That is the best legacy we can leave them.

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24 comments on “Should Your Kids Take Care Of You?

  1. On Jul 23, 2017 9:18 AM, “Kathy’s Retirement Blog” wrote:

    > Kathy Merlino posted: “Last week I contacted my attorney’s firm to make an > appointment with him to review our wills. He was no longer with the firm. > He gave up his practice and moved cross-country to help his aging parents. > What a good son we would all say. And, boy oh boy, is ” >

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  2. Off to golf. Sunscreen in Place. Taking care of myself. Hoping I’m never dependent on kids. Yes, I might end up in assisted living. I’m good with that. My own Mom made a good life for herself there during the year before she died.
    Claudia

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  3. I suspect deep inside all parents hoping to live independantly there exists a Plan B wherein, if it’s clear things aren’t working well “in place”, their children will step in and offer assistance of some sort. My mother-in-law has a terrible fear of “institutions” having worked as a personal care attendant. She believes she is living independently but her daughters most definitely do not. There is no easy answer nor right or wrong to your choice or anyone else’s, but it’s definitely a good idea to have conversations with your children about what you hope life will be like later and what you might need if Plan A isn’t panning out.

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  4. I actually wish my mom had gone into a senior living facility instead of living in a MIL suite with my brother and his wife. Now that her driving skills are not as good, she is often home-bound – she won’t drive unless she is having a good day as she is very aware of her limitations. So she is independent, but often solitary.

    Hubby and I have already looked at a few places and agreed that someday, it could be the right thing for us. Not now, but the social connections/activities these places offer was a definite plus in my mind. There is a wide range of places, and obviously a wide range of costs. But a few we looked and felt like mini-resorts!

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    • When my stepfather died I asked my mom where she would like to live. She did not want to be at home with help. It was very difficult for our family to move her to assisted living, but there were no good options for her with us kids. It was positive for her as she had people her age who had the same types of experiences that she was having. It is hard for me when I visit that I can not stay with her as I used to do. But I am there all day and we go out shopping and to eat.
      I have talked with my children briefly about what might happen when we need help.

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  5. Those of us without any children have always focused on remaining independent throughout our “Golden Years.” With my wife also being an “only child” and I having no relatives anywhere near us, we have no other choice. I think the most important part of nurturing a healthy and happy retirement is doing what Ernie Zelinski says in his book “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” – find purpose, structure, and community in your post-employment years. And yes, both independence and mobility (physical activity) are absolutely essential! These will bring you the joy of having not enough time to do everything you want to accomplish in your “bucket lists…” but will enjoy trying hard to empty them and self-re-invent along the way! PKF

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  6. My people say the child is the walking stick of the parents. I don’t see how I wouldn’t do the best for my parents so that they end their days happily if I say I love them. What does love mean. They did everything for me when I was a little boy and could not help myself. If I become big and capable, I have no option but to make my parents get the best enjoyment. This happens among my people and we are all very satisfied with this. It is a gift that I believe will be handed down from generation to generation; and makes ours a world of love; and we become each other’s keep not a selfish, self-centered world. Thank you for raising this question. In my country we hear about places where people abandon their parents in centers for the old. I do understand if there is no way to keep them at home and give them good care and love but it is unforgivable if you have the means to provide care to your parents but prefer to take them to a home away from family.

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    • Thank you for your insight and perspective! Yes, the US is one of the countries that has “centers for the old”. The second reason I want to age in place is because I am not a fan of these centers. We have federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination based upon age excepting for housing dedicated to people 55 and older. As another reader noted, many of these communities are like resorts. My objection is they separate older Americans from the general population and create an idea that aging is somehow negative. I wish to not be a burden to my children out of love for them. I also know they love me enough to remain in my life and care for me, if necessary. K

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      • Thank you for your positive response. Our prayer is that our children should do better and become better than us. In other words that they should really succeed well and if they do it will not be a burden to them to help us spend our last years still feeling loved. In my country we hear about those centers in the U.S. Of course there are people who are already importing the idea here but it is generally frowned at. Many people think it is throwing away or dumping people who sacrificed so much for you. Once again, thanks for this topic which has enabled us to have this friendly discussion and this may be the start of a long and fruitful blogging friendship. Blessings!

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  7. Totally agree with your perspective on this with the caveat that who knows how circumstances may change in the future requiring different decisions lol.

    We deliberately moved near my FIL when we relocated back to CA to be near our children and their families but that was to make it easier on us to drive to spend time with him. He is in assisted living and financially secure so we did not move here to take care of him but to provide some support and companionship in the few years he has left.

    My Mom and Dad steadfastly refused to move even when it would have been a wise choice and after Dad died she became socially isolated but was able to hire people to maintain her home and drive her with my Brother and SIL helping as much as they could.

    I want to be near to and close emotionally to my children and their families and hope that if I needed their support (emotional, physical or financial) that they would try to help but it is not an expectation. The other element that people should consider is that there is no guarantee that your children will out live you. I had a friend who ended up taking care of the daughter who had moved to take care of her as her daughter died of brain cancer fairly young.

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    • Juhli you are so right…there is no guarantee. Life throws us curve balls. I know a woman who is raising her grandchild because her daughter had a stroke. She never expected that in retirement! We can plan all we want but the best laid plans often go astray.

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  8. I am happy to see your post this morning – it complements others I’ve read on staying independent, engaged and happy as long as possible. Your story about Aunt Ann is a perfect example.

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  9. Kathy, my wife and I so totally agree with you on this matter. Between us we have three children (all men) and one grandchild (a lovely girl). They all have their own lives to live and you are absolutely right in that we have no right to expect them to give up any of their lives to take care of us. We are fortunate and blessed that we are healthy and have had the foresight and opportunity to plan for a comfortable, self sufficient retirement. Bravo!

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  10. Despite having 2 boys, we are very unlikely to receive much support from them, given they live a long way away. Nor would I want to be a ‘burden’ to them. I hope that as we age, and need more support, we will be able to remain in our own home, and employ additional help as needed.

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  11. Kathy, I think there’s a difference between expecting your children to give up their lives and take care of you and assuming (sometimes such a deep assumption you don’t know you have it) that your children will be there to help with an emergency transition. For example, if you had some kind of sudden physical/medical problem that made it impossible to continue living in your house, how would you get the house packed up and on the market and how would you find a new place to live while simultaneously dealing with the health issues? Many of my friends who are married with kids assume that, in such a situation, their spouse or their children (or both) will be able to help with the practical logistics. Those of us without partners or children have to plan ahead for dealing with such contingencies. (For example, in thinking ahead to a time when I will likely move to an independent living retirement community, I am not considering communities where you own your unit and are responsible for selling it when you move out; I know that when the time came that I had to move out, I would most likely not be able to deal with the real estate stuff.)

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    • I totally agree with you. After dealing with the nightmare of selling my father’s house 2-1/2 hours away, I am going to make sure my affairs are all squared away for my children. After having some medical problems and realizing how helpless one is mentally and physically, I want my affairs in order.When my husband and I pass away , I want my children to be able to grieve and move on. I don’t want the mess of closing out our life to extend the grieving process.

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  12. Respectfully, and based on my experience, I would note:

    I’ve read a number of posts here with the recurring theme that parents don’t want to be a “burden”, have no right to expect children to “give up their lives” for them, and expect to be self-sufficient, independent, etc. through their retirement and into old age. I’m getting the sense that many posters would be reluctant to ask for help from their children. Not surprising, since my parents were the same.

    As I remarked to my parents, perhaps you are doing your children a disservice? They love you and want to help you. Especially if physical distance separates you from them. Most children I know would do whatever was necessary, irrespective of the age of their parents. It’s not about being a “good son or daughter,” it’s about love.

    Having weathered unexpected illnesses and terminal diseases in both my parents and dividing up caregiving responsibilities among 4 daughters, I found that talking about options (with parents and siblings) is very helpful. It may not prepare you for exactly what happens (since health issues rarely run as we think they will) but at least it will lay some groundwork for communication later.

    One thing I learned from observing and caring for my parents is the importance of daily, rigorous exercise and weightlifting to keep independent and mobile for as long as possible. Both my parents stopped moving when they were 50 and paid a huge price for that. In contrast, my grandfather and great uncles exercised religiously right up to the end of their lives (late 80s).

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  14. I think we all hope we will maintain our physical and mental health until very old age and then fall asleep one night and not wake up. The reality is that we may need Plan A, B, C etc. I know many people who followed the “right” lifestyle and still developed dementia, had a stroke, broke a hip, etc—which made it impossible for them to live alone. I think communication is the key. We have talked indepth with our daughters about our plans and wishes. They know where the important documents are–wills, powers of attorney, etc. I don’t expect my children to drop their lives to care for me, but I would hope they would be there to help and advocate for me—just as I did for my parents and sister. I agree with Anita that parents need to be honest with themselves. If a living situation isn’t working or you need help—tell your kids. You may end up being more of a “burden” if you keep insisting you are fine when you are not.

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