Suzanne’s career couldn’t be better.
She’s the CAO at a growing healthcare company in Nashville. It’s her dream job. She loves the work—and the team she gets to work with.
Her personal life, however…that’s another story.
Suzanne’s 74-year-old mother is showing signs of dementia. She lives alone in a small apartment three hours west in Memphis. Obviously, she can’t continue living independently. To complicate matters, she has few financial assets and no long-term care insurance.
Over the weekend, Suzanne set up a video call with her two siblings who live in the Pacific Northwest. During that uneasy conversation, they both made it clear they couldn’t offer financial support. And neither seemed eager to help in other ways. “I suppose if you really need me to,” her brother finally sighed, “I could try to get down there every few months…but with work and all, I couldn’t stay for more than two or three days at a time.”
By the end of the call, Suzanne felt overwhelmed. And ever since, her heart’s been a whirlwind of emotion. She’s sad for her mom. She’s frustrated with her brother and sister. Not only is she clueless about what steps to take, but she’s also worried about how this new reality might disrupt her career and impact her own financial future.
When she woke up today, her mind was buzzing with questions: “What’s the best situation for Mom? What can she actually afford? Why does everything always have to fall on me? How am I supposed to do my job with excellence and be a caregiver too? Would my company be open to a creative or flexible work schedule? And what about my retirement plans—especially if I have to dip into my resources to help pay for sitters or nursing home care?
Suzanne feels alone. She’s not. The fact is, more and more women are living a version of her dilemma.
Due to this growing trend, Jodi Penn Rives, who leads Argent’s focus on Women | Wealth | Wellness recently sat down with David Russell, Vice President and Trust Officer at Argent Trust Company.
David’s been a financial caregiver to his own parents since 2009, and as a Certified Senior Advisor®, he specializes in helping adult children and aging parents have difficult conversations.
David, it seems like any time a family member has a serious illness or aging parents can no longer remain independent, it’s typically women in the family who step in to provide care.
That’s absolutely true. Here are four trends we’re seeing:
1| Women are more inclined to take on the caregiving role. Maybe it’s biological—women being more naturally nurturing. Or maybe it’s culturally influenced. But it’s primarily daughters and daughters-in-law—more so than sons and sons-in-law—who feel the pressure to leave a job or cut back on their hours. So…
2| Women are leaving the workforce. The statistics show it. There’s a definite talent drain as capable women quit their jobs or scale back in order to care for family members. Sometimes it’s to take care of children, but usually, it’s to care for older parents. And that leads to the third trend…
3| Parents are living longer. The life expectancy for a woman in 1900 was 48 years. In 1950 it was 71. Today, a 20-year-old woman has a one in four chance of living to age 100!
And complicating all this is a fourth reality…
4| We’re an increasingly mobile society. We don’t always live near our aging parents or in-laws. Maybe we’ve taken a job 200 miles away. Or they’ve retired 1,000 miles away. Either way, when a big change is warranted, the logistics are problematic. It’s disruptive to everyone. This is why we now have a multi-billion-dollar industry dedicated to caring for older folks.
This career-caregiving tension isn’t going away. And solving it isn’t easy, which is why step one is to start having those hard conversations now. Except that most people don’t want to talk about these matters!
So true! Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “My goal today is to discuss in detail what I’m going to do when I’m incapacitated.”
But you do have to talk.
I know from experience that having family members go from a state of independence to a place of dependence raises lots of questions. One of the biggest is: How is that obligation going to be shared?
My husband and I were fortunate. We found ourselves in a unique circumstance where we had the privilege of caring for my husband’s aging aunt. It was made effortlessly feasible since all four caregivers resided in the same city. By meticulously crafting an exceptional routine, we facilitated an environment where our aunt could maintain her independence for an extended period of time.
Later, when my mom got sick at the end of her life, my brother was living in California. We’re very close—he’s my best friend. I basically told him, “I can’t do this without you. Besides, in your job, you can work remotely. So, you have to come home.”
He did! And things worked beautifully. We had enough space at our house that he and his wife moved in, and they were really happy to do it. But even with all that cooperation, it took a lot of coordination.
That’s extremely rare. A few months ago, I joined a Facebook group called Elderly Parent Caregivers, mainly to see the issues people are dealing with.
I would estimate seven out of every ten posts are people venting and complaining. Some of the stories are sad. People are dealing with very difficult situations, and they’ve got siblings who won’t help, siblings who never call, siblings who can’t do anything wrong in the eyes of mom or dad, but don’t lift a finger to help.
It’s crushing when you’re carrying the load all by yourself. Then you add the stress of being in it day after day. There’s a physical toll. A woman who is a primary caregiver is 23% more likely to have serious health conditions than a woman that doesn’t have that responsibility.
Lastly, the financial costs can be staggering. We did a study here at Argent and found that leaving the workforce to care for a family member costs the average woman some $350,000 in lost wages, future Social Security benefits, and retirement accumulations.
So, we’re back to the importance of talking about all your options.
Exactly. When I ask our clients what their goals are, always in the top five is “We don’t want to be a burden to our children.” But what exactly does that mean? That you never want your kids to have to write a check for you? Or, do you really mean that you don’t want them to feel burdened because you’re old and losing your independence?
I believe it’s unrealistic to tell your adult kids, “I don’t want you to feel emotionally burdened for me even when I get to a place where I can’t take care of myself.” That would be like telling a young parent, “Hey, you shouldn’t feel any concerns about your child’s well-being.”
I have a good friend whose dad told him years ago, “If I ever lose the ability to take care of myself and I don’t know who I am, promise me you’ll take me to the closest facility, check me in, leave, and never come back.”
My friend reluctantly promised. But then all those things happened. And my friend said, “I realized There’s no way I’m keeping that promise! I love my dad. I want to see him. I want to visit him. That’s what love is.”My point is you cannot avoid the emotional pain of all this. Just having a conversation won’t do that. But it can help us come up with some strategies for lessening the financial impact and physical toll.
Let’s get practical then. What might that look like?
I’ve got an advanced age planning questionnaire that I get aging couples to complete. (If you contact Argent, we’ll be glad to send it.) It asks basic things like, “Where do you want to live when you’re no longer independent?”
If that’s in the home, great. Let’s put that down on paper, then assess whether your home needs to be modified, how much sitters will cost, etc.
Or, maybe you expect to live with one of your kids. Fine, let’s have that discussion now—before you’re in the middle of a crisis.
The questionnaire helps foster all kinds of helpful conversations: Are a person or couple’s wishes realistic? How will we fund those plans? Who will play what roles?
I’ve found that discussions like that are hard, but they’re ultimately empowering. And they help surface expectations—which can prevent conflict and tension down the road.
Exactly. So, those are two big things that an empowered woman can do proactively.
First, have a conversation with mom and dad while you still can. Talk all about expectations. Discuss finances. Begin to formulate a plan. And, if you need guidance in structuring that conversation, contact Argent and ask for the resources we’ve created.
Second, if you have siblings, make sure you bring them into that conversation—along with a mediator or a trusted professional. Be upfront and clear. “This caregiving responsibility is too great for one person to carry. So, we’re here to discuss our individual roles and how we can make this work to everyone’s benefit.”
It’s really about asking all those questions and getting a firm handle on all your options. Do you have to quit the job you love and/or need? Is it possible to rethink the way you’re working? Could you maybe work from home—or at least 50% of the time from home? Could you reduce your hours, but still keep your benefits?
The goal is for women to feel empowered and have a great sense of freedom as they take care of the people they love.
David, what would you say to the woman caregiver who is already in the thick of it, who feels overwhelmed, and isn’t sure what to do?
Here’s a plan for someone like that. Three simple steps.
One, let’s have a conversation. Schedule a consult and tell us what’s going on.
Two, let’s create a plan together. We can explore various options for reducing your stress. And, we can give you some practical tools and resources that will help.
Three, let’s maximize the possibility that, in spite of your caregiver role—and, with that, perhaps a drop in income—you can still meet your financial goals.
To get any of the resources discussed in this article, or to set up a consult, please contact any of Heritage’s professionals at 877.887.8899. We’ll be glad to help however we can.