What Will Being Family Caregivers Do to Millennial Marriages?

File under: Things we should have talked about a decade ago

man and grandmother holding hands

There are a lot of conversations my husband and I didn’t have before we got married almost ten years ago. For example, we didn’t discuss money, kids, or even really what we wanted to do with our careers. We got married after barely three months of dating. We were twenty-two and twenty-one, and just figured, hey, all that stuff? It’ll work itself out.

So I suppose it’s not surprising that I can add one more topic to the list of things we never discussed: what will happen to our parents as they age, and whether or not we’ll each be the family caregiver. Between us, we have six parents and step-parents to consider. Some of them have their own plans (and funds) set aside, and some of them… don’t. As the oldest kids in our families, we’ve each assumed that if our parents needed someone to live with, then they’d live with us (or we would at least extend the offer and allow them to decide).

I know this isn’t what everyone does, but multigenerational households are on the rise yet again. We have more debt than ever before, and I can’t help but worry what our ever-increasing student loan debt totals will do to my fellow millennials, and our families. While many immigrant families have historically lived with several generations to a house in the US, the most recent rise in multigenerational living coincided with the Great Recession. Recent graduates moved back home, parents moved in with financially secure children, and grandparents moved in with everybody. In other words, we’re nearing the end of an age where two middle-income workers can retire comfortably and independently, let alone have a retirement that looks like the commercials. These days, a lot of us are lucky if we can get a car loan.

When I started speaking to peers and friends about the idea of taking care of a family and living with several generations in one house, I found out that once again, we’d stumbled into an important married conversation a little late. Apparently this is a conversation a lot of people have before ever putting a ring on it. The reasons vary: For some, having your parents move in with you is an inevitable cultural practice. For others, it’s just what they plan to do. For still others, there’s no way their parents will live with them, but they’re totally open to setting money aside to assist their parents as they age. I also believe that in the coming future, multiple generations living together will start to make financial (and practical) sense for many more families.

In our house, we didn’t start having this conversation until two years ago, when my husband started working at a home for patients who have Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. It’s worth noting that his home was one of the “good” ones, and in a state that has far better laws and regulations about elder care than others. But even still, he quickly, and firmly, made a decision that none of our parents would ever end up in a facility like that. Since I have always assumed I would offer my mother a space in our home at any point in her life if she needed it, I agreed. At the time neither of us was thinking about our ever-pressing student loan debt and what that might mean for our financial future (to be honest, we still have no idea)—we just felt like this was the only clear option before us.

I’m curious what other couples have talked about—and not talked about—before and throughout the course of their relationship, especially when it comes to aging parents.

have you and your partner talked about taking care of your parents as they age? how did you begin the conversation? what plans do you have?

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  • Chris

    Hah! I just had this conversation with my Dad a week ago. We’re still in the early stages, but are considering buying a house with an associated casita so that my folks can visit easily now, and live there when the time comes that they need more help, while still having some privacy.

  • Amy March

    I had a rough round of these conversations with an ex, and ultimately it was a factor in our breakup. I think there really isn’t any way to know what you’ll do until you are faced with the situation, but what we both wanted to happen revealed a big difference in our values. I very much expect my parents to live independently as long as possible, finance their own stay in assisted living, would certainly never attempt to care for someone with dementia in my home because that’s a full time skilled job and I already have one of those, and would be willing to have my, or his, parents move in as a last resort after much discussion about what it would mean for our family and whether we could manage- which is completely in line with my parents expectations and desires. He very much expected that anyone who even thinks of any way for caring for elderly parents aside from moving them in was a horrible and selfish person, and felt that the parents wishes govern, regardless of whether they are rational or work for the new little family.

    I think making a plan about this is largely a fool’s errand. It’s like deciding how you will parent before the baby arrives. But talking about how you will make those decisions, and discussing that, and thinking about what you value and what your goal is? So useful.

    • Violet

      Your last paragraph so HARD. When my partner and I first started dating, his mother had just declared bankruptcy and he didn’t know my mom all that well. Where we are over a decade later looks very different. His mom married a man who is incredibly financially secure. My mom is still doing fine, but my partner loves her to pieces now, and he wants to eventually buy a place where she can live with us but have her own space when she retires. So yes, discuss first, by all means. But a decision can’t be truly made until there is an actual choice to be made. Everything else is all an exercise in healthy communication.

    • LJ

      I think that my fiancé and I are on a similar page (both independently minded with financially secured parents, European heritage so less of a parents-move-in-automatically mentality) for which I am so grateful for. I totally resonate with your talk of being independent and wanting to care for your parents but also wanting to preserve your quality of life and independence at the same time. I required 3 years of on and off counseling/therapy when I moved out at 20 years of age because of my mom. The hell if she is ever moving into my home again. That said, I want her to do well in her life and if paying for assisted living is needed down the road then I would do what I can to make her (and my dad’s and my fiancé’s parents’) life more comfortable. I just have a very firm boundary of “not at the expense of my own mental health”.
      Also, token nod to the last paragraph probably making me eat my above words sometime in the next 30 years. :P

    • MC

      My mom and her longtime boyfriend recently broke up over a similar issue – he wanted to move home and take care of his dad, and she didn’t want to move & didn’t want to upend their lives in that way. For him it seemed like a no-brainer that he would do that, and for her she was like, “Why aren’t you considering other options?!” I think it had a lot to do with what the expectations in each of their families were, and the fact that my mom is the youngest of nine so even when her parents were alive it was never on her radar. So I totally agree that talking about priorities, values, and expectations beforehand is super important, so you’re not blindsighted when a parent does need care and support and you have to make a decision quickly.

    • TeaforTwo

      Your last paragraph is spot-on. There are so many factors involved in elder care provisions that you can never really plan for, but the conversation comes down to family culture: the cultures of each of your families of origin, and the family culture you intend to create together.

      I think it’s analagous to how families handle other, smaller things: some families help each other move, regardless of income bracket, or come to stay when someone has a new baby and do laundry/cook/clean for the new parents. In our families, we get movers, order takeout, and hire a cleaning service, then invite one another over after the work is done. We’ll get movers, order takeout and hire a cleaning service for each other, even, but don’t actually do each other’s laundry ourselves because we all like more privacy than that.

      It will be the same as our parents age, as far as finances (theirs, then ours) allow: everyone’s first preference would be to live close to one another, but separately, hire help for the physical caregiving to preserve our parents’ dignity, and otherwise spend as much time together as possible.

      • TeaforTwo

        I should add: I know that a lot of this is class-based, or at least income-dependent. But among financially stable, middle class families, there is an element of choice, too: my parents wouldn’t have helped me with my education to an extent that would have jeopardized their independence later in life, and I had student loans so that they could have retirement savings. I have friends with different family cultures who are acutely aware that their parents sacrificed a lot so that they could go to a certain school, graduate debt-free, or pursue particular sports or hobbies, and that they are expected to return the favour later on. That’s not how we operate.

        • Amy March

          Exactly. My parents are happy to help me move, by which they mean sure, they’ll totally consult with me about where to hang paintings and they’ll absolutely supervise movers. And they 100% prioritized their own retirement, and were quite comfortable saying “no we can’t afford that” to do so. I don’t think it is the only good way to arrange your life, but I like it, and I’m not particularly interested in stepping into a family with radically different expectations.

    • Lulu

      I don’t want to distract from your larger and wonderfully-stated point, but I can’t shake my frustration with his presumption that all elderly parents would want to be moved into a child’s home. My mother would literally rather die, and has said so, earnestly.

      • Amy March

        mmhhhmm so much frustration with so many of his presumptions

      • z

        +1. My grandma had a really tough time caring for her own mother for 20 years. She was adamant that she would not move in with any of her children, even though they would have happily done it. Some people really like the autonomy of an assisted living apartment, and the abundance of social interaction with their peers.

        • Lisa

          My husband’s grandmother is this way. She’s 90+ years old, but when she was in her 60s, she purchased a condo in a senior living community near her children where she could get increasing levels of care as necessary. She’s still living completely on her own with weekly check-ins from the kids (MIL and siblings), and she much prefers to be around people her own age and with whom she has more in common.

    • Sara

      Your values are normal – for America. The American way is unusual in most of the world. Not only for aging parents, but also for new graduates.

      In Europe, most graduates still live at home for years after they graduate. Extended families live together a lot. Europe and the rest of the world have never had the economy we’ve had, that allows for families to live independently from each other. And even America hasn’t always been able to do this. It’s a luxury funded by the robust economy we took for granted for a long period of time.

      In this new era where grads return home and more aging parents move in, it feels “wrong” to so many of us, whereas it’s just life as usual almost everywhere else.

      • anon

        What do you mean by ‘robust’? The industry I work in will never exist anywhere near where my parents live, regardless of the state of the economy. Maybe having options IS robust. It just feels strange to word it that way.

  • Ashlah

    Oh god, this topic. It’s (hopefully) still a far away issue, but it stresses us both out to think about it. Between us, we have three parents who definitely have no plan/money (one of whom likely has or will develop Alzheimer’s), two who might be okay, and two who should be fine. In a way, I’m thankful that we’re both agree that we don’t want any of our parents living with us, particularly if they need significant care. But that doesn’t really help solve anything, does it? Our parents will still need care. They’ll still need a place to live when they’re no longer working. Can we afford to (and should we) support them financially? Pay for assisted living? Purchase a home with separate living quarters for parents? It’s something we need to talk about more, and also something we really need to sit down and discuss with all of our parents. What are their expectations? Are they realistic? Have they looked into their options, or are they assuming we’ll take them in? What resources do they actually have, beyond (or below) our assumptions?

    …I need to lie down.

    • Cellistec

      Yeah, I need to breathe into a paper bag after thinking about all this for the past hour. Maybe it gets easier with practice?

  • Fiona

    We’ve talked about this a lot because we were acutely aware, entering into this, that we are binational and bicultural and our families have VERY different expectations. I have four siblings and one parent who has planned excessively and is more likely to be taking care of us than we are of her, and any and all of my siblings are willing to have her with us physically, though she has insurance to take care of in-home care. With my husband, he’s Latino and Haitian, so he has a much more involved duty with his parents. He is his mother’s only living son, so I’m just waiting for the day that we will take care of her. We already do so financially somewhat, but she doesn’t want to leave Haiti, so I don’t know what we will do when she needs more care (she’s in her fifties an healthy now, but her current living environment is physically very difficult). His father has five biological children and five step children, so he’s more set in terms of physical care, but all of his biological children besides my husband currently live in the Dominican Republic and do not have access to opportunities that will lead to much financial gain, so I’m expecting to help out more financially there. Nursing homes are not a thing in either country, so physical care falls to family members and neighbors – it’s a much more community-oriented society. I almost think like besides the fact that both of us feel like, “well of course we will support any and all parents,” it’s a more worthwhile conversation to have with siblings and in-laws.

    We’re going to be with my family for a week at Thanksgiving and his for two weeks at Christmas, so it might be time to have the siblings conversation.

  • WaffleHouse

    I understand your husbands knee jerk reaction to having family in a care facility if they suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, but often this is the safest option for that person. Not many people would be able to provide round the clock care for family members (particularly for people who are confused and may try to repeatedly leave the house and get lost) due to other obligations like work or caring for children/needing to leave the house occasionally. Maybe if you can afford in home health care or insurance covers enough hours etc…
    I do understand the sentiment of wanting to care for family, but just want to point out that it’s not always in their best interest. And putting family in a care facility is an extremely difficult decision even when you know it’s what’s best for their health and safety. It’s definitely good to talk to each other about what you are willing to take on as a couple, but as someone whose parents health has nosedived over the past few years – some things are completely beyond your control.
    Does my father want anyone to have to change his adult diaper? No. Does he want me to do it? Hell no. I hope I’m not being too sensitive – the “I could never” tone of this piece hurt a little.

    • Jess

      This decision is *so* individual, needing to be based on the caretaker and the family member and the situation.

      It’s ok to say, “In ideal circumstances, I would want to be the main caretaker” and plan for that.

      I fully agree with you that there are a lot of things that can happen that put that choice out of your hands, and it’s important to plan for that event, too.

    • Lisa

      This is what happened with my grandpa. My aunt wanted to have him living with her even after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but she was a single mom with no other financial support. It became impossible for her to watch my grandpa all of the time and take care of her son so eventually my parents helped pay the cost of putting him into a nursing home.

      It was incredibly sad to see him in that place, especially knowing how he’d valued his family and independence, but when you run up against the problem of someone who may hurt themselves or others, it’s not really a decision anymore.

      • LJ

        Sometimes there’s no right answer, just one that is less wrong. That’s such a tough decision.

    • Sarah

      Yup. Sometimes I still think my mom and her sisters could/should have taken in their mom when she got in bad shape but it wouldn’t have been in anyone’s best interest in most ways. She’s fortunate that her war widows aid and modest savings covered a private nursing home for several years (at like 6000/month!) but the Medicare options are….not great.

    • Essssss

      My grandmother was determined that she did not want to live with either of her children, both of whom were willing. We were able to find an amazing assisted living facility for her. After a broken hip, sudden onset of dementia, and a really sad decline that did include time in a nursing facility that seemed to make things worse, we were able to work with someone whose job it was to match people in need of care with adult family homes. This person didn’t take payment, her job was simply to find the best match. Adult family homes are smaller facilities with just a couple of patients in a home like environment, with CNAs and other professionals there around the clock. She was able to stay there, and ultimately passed away while on hospice but without having to leave her home. With the exception of the difficult transition from assisted living to the adult family home, we feel extremely positive about the amazing facilities and people out there who helped care for my grandmother.
      It really is about being an advocate and knowing what options are available.

    • Libby

      Yeah, I hear you. After working with mostly older adults in the hospital this past year, my eyes have been opened so much. Interestingly I had a slightly different response than Stephanie’s husband in that my eyes were really opened to just HOW much care sometimes people need and the reality that I myself might not be able to provide it. Am I going to be able to lift my 6’5″ father off the bed to move him every two hours? Just might not be possible. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the care will likely need to be paid for and it might come in the form of a nursing home at some point, there is no way to know now.
      I think being kind to yourself and trying not to say “never” is important because you just can’t anticipate the type of care someone will need. It is SO hard on children when a parent has spoken for years about never wanting to be outside their own home. Sometimes there is a point where the children/family just cannot physically and emotionally continue to provide the care, for whatever reason. So, everyone be kind to yourself, we all do our best to care for our loved ones and it doesn’t always look the same.

    • JenC

      A few months ago we were driving back from town when we saw an older lady fall down on the pavement. My husband pulled into the side street and a passing pedestrian also ran to help her. We spoke to the lady who at the time seemed really lucid, she said she must just be having one of those days and she’s ever so embarrassed. Her fall had bent her stick and so we offered her a ride home, she told us she lived about a mile away but there’s no way she could walk it. Anyway we pull up outside her house, she unattached her keys from her chain and tried to unlock the door but can’t. We knock and nobody is home. At this point, the lady is about to fall again and my husband is holding onto her. I knock on a neighbours house and ask if they remember the lady in question, fortunately one of them does. The lady lived on that street several years ago but not in the house she told us was hers and we are trying to get into. She hadn’t lived in that street for at least five years. Fortunately the neighbour had taken the address she moved to and noted it down in her Christians card list. They had no contact details for any of her children. We drove her to the other side of town, probably about 5 miles with the distance she walked. On the way there she tells us she fell at least two more times on her walk. She tells us that she didn’t do any permanent damage though. She also tells us that the kids will be home from school and then later she tells us that the kids are at work. She’s growing more and more confused and more scared. I keep talking to her from the back of the car so she doesn’t think she’s alone in a car with a strange man and hits out in fear at my husband. It’s not even been an hour since we saw her fall. We get to her new home and thankfully the key opens the front door, as we walk in she talks to a cat that isn’t there and hasn’t been there for sometime and tells us that her children will be home from school soon. We can’t find any contact numbers for her children and no neighbours are in. We call social services and leave a message that they need to check on this lady and I also place a call with a local age charity. We feel bad that we can’t do more but short of dumping her at the hospital this is the best we can do. We don’t receive any calls from social services or the charity. This woman lived alone but clearly had quite advanced dementia. She could have come to so much harm that day, she walked out of her house with only a jumper on and crocs on her, her keys attached to a chain on her neck and her walking stick. She then walked five miles and would have walked another mile to a house that wasn’t hers. She would have been safer in a home, a place where they notice if she goes walkies on a Sunday. She clearly loved her family, there were pictures all over her house and maybe they hadn’t realised how bad the dementia was getting but she isn’t safe on her own and isn’t safe unless she has 24/7 supervision. A home can offer her that. Yes it’s scary for her but it’s also scary getting lost and not being able to find your home.

    • z

      +1. People who say they could never use a facility are often woefully under-informed about elder care, and I really resent when they get judgey about it (especially men who expect it of women). There are so many considerations. Just throwing out a few additional ones:

      Can an adult child really provide full-time care 24/7while also earning enough money to afford an appropriate family living space and all the expenses? Who exactly is going to do it?

      What about sundowning? Many older people have a very hard time with their circadian rhythms and night activity can be extremely disruptive to the household– and what about the impact on the adult child’s own children, who wouldn’t be able to sleep.

      Changing an adult’s diaper is nothing like changing a baby’s. There are pubes, people. It’s a much more involved cleaning process. My MIL is 6 feet tall, emotionally unregulated, and already doesn’t recognize some of her relatives. She physically resists personal care. It’s very difficult to deal with hygiene without accidentally injuring her or her injuring the caregiver. Some things are best left to professionals with professional equipment.

      • Violet

        To your point about changing the diapers… you’re right; it’s not the same. I see lots of things posted on social media– “inspirational” type quotes about how these people cared for you when you couldn’t feed yourself, walk, etc., so of *course* you return the favor. I don’t know if it’s quite that simple. It’s not direct reciprocity. When you help a child, that child is (typically) gaining independence every day. When you assist an elderly person, they are losing their independence every day. It is the complete opposite trajectory. It’s just not the same thing. Your heart is not being warmed with each new step, each new bite of food. You are feeling sadder and sadder every day, as the person you’re caring for becomes more and more frustrated. I would also add that before modern medicine, people did not get to these advanced ages where care is necessary, so no, we are not physically equipped to care for a full-sized immobile person the way we are a tiny immobile person. So while we might desperately *want* to care for our aging parents/grandparents, it’s not always physically, financially, or emotionally possible. I don’t think people need to be judged about their choices.

        • z

          +1. If an older person falls down, you don’t just haul them up like you would a two-year-old. Doing that could very seriously injure them. A lot more professional help is required. It’s a totally different thing.

      • JDubs

        Ugh. I know exactly what you mean about men expecting it of women. It was ok for my mom and aunt to provide 24/7 care to my grandmother but not a single one of her four sons ever did. It was also ok for them to expect my mother’s three adult daughters who were in the process of going to college, graduating from college and wanting to move out of their parents’ home, to contribute significantly to that care. To the point that my sisters and I delayed moving out of our parents’ house for years because we knew that without our help our parents couldn’t manage her.

        I cannot describe the resentment of watching my other cousins move out and progress their lives while I was working 40 hours a week and coming home to take care of our grandmother in the evenings while my mother worked. Someone had to be home with her all the time, she cried constantly, she could not be comforted, and someone absolutely had to be there to walk her step by painful, sob filled step on how to use the bathroom. I’m talking we had to tell her how to use toilet paper and where to put it all while she had a complete meltdown every.single.time.

        Sorry for the crazy bitter rant. Its been a year now since she was moved into a home and all of us are doing so so much better. She’s happy and well cared for. My sisters and I all moved out and I got married. My parents are talking about retirement and enjoying being empty nesters. :) I said all this to say, a) please don’t write off a nursing home before you realize how bad its going to get and b) what the heck is up with this gendered assumption that only women will care for their elderly parents? (I realize that may not be universal but it was very very strong in my Southern, conservative, male, baby boomer uncles.)

  • Rosie V.

    We’re both millennials, but my husband is first-gen Latino and culturally there is a lot of expectation that he will financially take care of his family as they get older. It was established every early on that, if necessary, a certain portion of our money would go towards paying for their healthcare needs and housing. It would never go above our children’d needs or our fundamental needs, but it would go over, say, a planned vacation and would be meticulously budgeted for years in advance. I’d say this philosophy was my husband’s only deal breaker, even in our early 20s.

    He even partially planned his career trajectory around this need and specifically only looked into career paths and jobs that would be more lucrative (read: big bad evil business) in order to support both our family and his (now our) extended family. (FWIW, we know we were very lucky that this panned out as expected, at least so far, including the fact that I make decent money too).

    I’m more independently minded and raised so it’s been an adjustment, but mostly I love how fiercely he loves his family. It also helps that his parents want to try to avoid us caring for them as long as possible–I think it would be harder for me to accept if they decided to retire before they had to and expected us to subsidize them.

    Overall, it’ll be an interesting process over the years, but we’ve been very clear and communicative over the past decade, so I think we’re on good grounding.

    (My parents are independently wealthy and there are no concerns around their retirement or ability to have top of the line care should that need occur)

  • Eenie

    My mother in law is ten years older than all our other parents, and she has smoked all of her life. We’ve talked a lot about this fact, even factoring it into the timing of our potential future kids. My father in law will hopefully be well enough to care for her primarily, but I wouldn’t be opposed to him moving near us in retirement if she passes away. I think we’ve both established that having family members live with us in the same house long term is not an option. Help for the short term, but we’d find a better long term solution to save our sanity.

  • Cellistec

    I went to dinner with my mom last night and when we tried to split the bill, her credit card was declined. I’d never seen that happen to her. I knew she’d started selling some of her things for petty cash, but I’m afraid that after making six figures and retiring early, she’d most likely wait until it’s too late to ask for help. Meanwhile, my husband and I want to buy real estate in our expensive city, and I often wonder if our down payment nest egg is going to turn into emergency money when my mom, or my in-laws, get into financial trouble that could have been prevented had they just told us about it. Ugh, I’m getting light-headed just thinking about this.

    tl;dr as Amy March and Violet said below, it’s all about communication.

  • Anon

    I think something so important in here is having conversations with
    loved ones about their end of life wishes, confirming that their wills
    are in order, etc. It can seem morbid to have these conversations, but
    it is so much more difficult to have them thrust upon you with out
    notice; a loved one dying and discovering no will; an end of life
    decision with no clarity on who has power of attorney. Both for you and
    your spouse, and for parents, I think having these conversations early
    and regularly normalizes them and is important down the line. There are tools like the 5 Wishes that help make these conversations easier.

    My husband and I are both only children, and so have always had some sense that we’ll need to be stepping up in so many ways as our families age. We stumbled into this conversation a bit when my father passed away suddenly last year and we both became in some ways, care givers far earlier than we expected, for my grieving mom, who has spent much of the past year staying with us. My husband also has step parents and two special needs step siblings, so in the future, we imagine there will be some pressures that we can’t even imagine right now. Basically we deal with it through humor, saying we’ll run an elder home/boarding house. But realistically we just save all the money we can and acknowledge and respect how important our families are to each other. Having our in laws around for long periods of time is straining for both of us and so when we buy a house, we think a guest house in the back is gonna be pretty key.

  • Eevee

    We both came from very toxic households. Between us we have 3 people we consider ‘parents’; one of whom is already disabled. We both know our emotional well being will be shot should any of them ever live with us. Heck, phone calls are emotionally draining; I couldn’t imagine living with them again. Not one person in either of our families has planned for the future; not a dollar saved, no insurance, no anything. I’m an only child and my husband has 3 siblings, but we are the most financially stable by a long shot. At this point in our lives, we cannot afford take care of any one else. I have no idea what will happen or what decisions we’ll have to make for our aging relatives but we’ve agreed that under no circumstances can we house anyone. We would rather go into significant debt paying for assisted living than sacrifice our emotional health and/or our relationship with each other.

  • sshintaku

    This is something I have REALLY struggled with. I am a pretty big believer in taking care of your family, but I actually like my parents and they are decent people. My dad lived with us for a couple years while he was working in our area and commuted home for the weekend. It was fine. My husband likes my parents, everyone gets along. His parents, specifically his mom, are a different story and we’ve talked about it a lot with no conclusion. His parents mismanage their money and have massive amounts of debt. His mother also has boderline personality disorder which she refuses to treat, so generally, shes a nasty and misterable human being. If his father were to pass away, his mother would be unable to care for or provide for herself. As strong as our marriage is,I know it would not withstand his mother living with us. I also have a problem with saying,e”hey, even though this is totally your fault, good luck being on the streets.” We’ve talked circles around this and neither one of us has any solution.

    • Anon

      While it could certainly be better, there is a social safety net of medicare and social security for this reason, and skilled nursing facilities that may be able to help.

  • Jessica

    My mom is the youngest of 3, and has ended up being the main person her parents turn to when they need anything. Part of this is because of proximity (uncles live another 45 minutes away) and part of it is that she’s the girl. My grandmother is doing fine, aging in place in a nice townhome development created for seniors. My grandfather has been in a nursing home for the past year, and even though he was married, my parents picked up the tab (with some contributions from one uncle) and the care needed on top of what is provided at the home. Unfortunately my grandfather’s wife (25 years his junior) just suddenly passed away, so things are getting complicated again.

    All of this has made my parents extremely aware of how they want the last decadeish of their lives to go. They are saving as much as possible, investing, and making sure the family knows that they are thinking of it because they don’t want to bankrupt us for their lack of planning. My husbands family, if they have thought of it and are planning for that, have not communicated it to us, but are closer to the two children who live nearby who they have probably talked to them about planning for the future.

  • Essssss

    Has anyone read the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande? I think it should be required reading for millennials and aging parents. It has a great history of outside of family care and distinguishes between dismal nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and many options in between. I learned a lot and it helped start a lot of important conversations.

  • nyc_to_ma

    This is so relevant to me right now. Not a parent, but my fiancee’s brother is intellectually disabled. It’s always been assumed that he’ll probably live with us one day, when his parents are no longer able to. I understand that in the abstract, but it’s also going to be SO HARD and change our lives SO MUCH when it happens.

    • BefWithAnF

      I dated a guy for a long time whose brother was disabled. I also got the feeling it was assumed that my ex would take care of his brother when his parents passed, which gave me massive anxiety because his brother was not a nice person. It didn’t work out for a number of reasons, but I am ashamed that I was a little relieved to not have to solve that situation.

      The fact that we probably could have never discussed it in a sensible way didn’t help with that anxiety either.

  • Eh

    It’s interesting that Stephanie and her husband assumed that they would be their parents caregivers because they are the oldest. In my family it was always assumed my sister would take care of our dad because she was the youngest. Me and my sister live far from my dad so it will all be on my brother (who is the oldest) and SIL (my dad and step-mum have money set aside for their care). For my in-laws, my husband and I have not had this conversation at all, and I don’t think my in-laws have planned for this at all. My MIL’s parents are 80 and still very heavy and active, so I think they are hoping for the same.

    • Essssss

      My parents both lived across the country from their parents, and despite that both became primary caregivers for their aging parents, flying back and forth as crises arose. They both had siblings who were closer, but they had their own challenges so it fell to my parents. It was a really stressful time in our lives.

      • Eh

        I can see how that would be stressful. Fingers Crossed that doesn’t happen in my case. My dad has actually made it clear that I am his last pick to take care of him or make decisions for him. I am a very analytical person and apparently he wants someone who is more compassionate.

        • Essssss

          Right? I think its just a matter of preparing how you can and taking it how it all comes.

  • honeycomehome

    I wonder how this is going to play out for a generation that isn’t as well off as the aging generation. Beyond the will or expectation of caring for your parents, is it going to be a realistic possibility for our generation?

    We are both close to our families and see them, often. We haven’t had discussed exact situations, but agree in general terms. None of our parents are relying on us, but if we were able, we will do what we can. I’d actually really love to live in a multi-generational home, right now, before anyone gets sick or is unable to live independently. Like this! http://www.startribune.com/family-affair-three-generations-make-it-work-under-one-roof-in-a-minneapolis-home/373581501/#1

    • rg223

      Yeah, I was going to comment that I am FAR more concerned about Millenials (my generation) being able to A) afford care for our parents, whatever that entails and B) being able to afford care for ourselves in old age instead of relying on our children. We’re in a terrible crunch generation, and we’re certainly going to do worse than our parents, so what’s the answer?

      • Cellistec

        Well when you put it like that…yeah, there’s probably no great solution. Maybe creative approaches based on each of our individual situations: multi-generational housing for some, long-term care insurance for others, social safety nets, moving to places with lower cost of living, etc.

    • LJ

      That’s a really cool idea. I know a lot of Indian and South Asian families do that in my area.

  • JDubs

    I know we’re talking about this from a partner/spouse/couple standpoint, but please, please guys, if you have siblings have these discussions with them too. I have been in the very unique situation of living with my parents during college and after grad school, during which they were caring for my grandmother who has Alzheimers. As adults in the home my sisters and I played a big part in handling her daily care and it was difficult to say the least.

    My mother is one of six, but of those six siblings only she and my aunt took turns caring for my grandmother in their homes. After watching the difficulties taking care of my grandmother had on the family relationships between my mother, aunt and uncles I urge you all to discuss these plans with your siblings. Come to an agreement, and yes, communicate, clearly and often, especially when things or circumstances change. That way no one is blindsided to find out that your parent/grandparent needs to be put in a home much sooner than possible, or how much said home is going to cost and they can prepare financially if they need to contribute. Figure out who is going to run point on medical visits, medical power of attorney, actual power of attorney, executor of the estate etc.

    Watching all of this unfold gave my sisters and I plenty to discuss about how we wanted to handle caring for our parents in the future. It also allowed my then fiance, now husband, and I to have some really good conversations as well. These conversations gave me hope that when the time comes we will be able to work out a solution between us. As a last point, the home my grandmother is in now is wonderful. She is happier there than I have seen her in a long time, which is really great to see.

    • Jess

      Yes. This kind of sibling interplay has happened to both my parents now, and really strained sibling relationships.

    • Lawyerette510

      Yes the sibling thing is so important. It is something my sister and I explicitly talk about, and my husband and his siblings talk around (their family, their choices as to how to talk about it). But I have seen from my mom’s family how the cookie crumbles based on geography most of the time, especially if you don’t talk about it. (In my mom’s case, her parents were divorced, she lives close to my grandma and is primarily responsible for her, and my aunt lived close to my grandfather and was primarily responsible for him until he died earlier this year. My grandma is still in her home and my grandfather amazingly was in his own home and did not need a care giver until about 3 weeks after his 101st birthday he went into the hospital for 4 days where he died).

    • Cellistec

      Yes, and let’s not forget the extra layer of caregiving when a sibling is dependent on a parent and then that parent becomes dependent. Both my husband and I have younger siblings who live with our respective parents, and if/when we end up in a caregiver role for them, the siblings will be a package deal. Basically, it’s a family conversation, not a parent-child and partner/spouse conversation.

      • Carrie

        THIS. My father-in-law’s family is still dealing with all of the issues left over from the last few years of his father’s (my husband’s grandfather’s) life… during which he rapidly deteriorated from Alzheimer’s while still living at home and (on paper, anyway) being the primary caregiver for my husband’s uncle who has Down syndrome. I’m honestly not sure who was taking care of who at the end. My FIL and his other siblings checked in on them all the time, but it was just the 2 of them living in the house. This all went down when I was still pretty new to the family, so I wasn’t part of any “family conversation” yet, but from my outside perspective there didn’t seem to be much of a conversation at all and I feel like the whole situation could have been managed a lot better if there had been one.

    • Sarah Shinyhelmet Stovetop

      Taking care of my father has made relationships with my siblings EXTREMELY ROCKY. Luckily we all figured it out in the end, but yeah. I wish we had all talked about this when everyone was healthy.

    • Seconding this from a different perspective! I’m an only child but my mom is one of five kids, and seeing how my grandmother has planned out her, well, eldercare/selfcare, and how that planning has played out with her children/my mom’s siblings, has been really inspiring.

      My grandmother been incredibly proactive about planning for her potential needs, willingly downsizing from house to large condo to small condo to assisted living situation of her choice over the last 20 years. She’s been very clear about her plans, financial and medical, with all of her children so no one has been in the position of second-guessing the actions of the children who live closest to her.

      About 2/3 of our family lives within a 10 minute drive of her, and the rest of us live at least an hour’s plane ride away, several 10+ hour plane rides away. There have been some miscommunications and sore feelings about other things (the farther flung family members feeling left out of family activities that happen where most of the family lives come to mind), but because my grandmother has been so up front for so very long about what she wants, there has never been any doubt or miscommunication about what my grandmother’s plans and wishes for her care and even her estate.

      Sidenote: my grandmother is also kind of weird about aging and death, and in the last 10 years has set up a series of ‘grandma’s last trip to do X’ before she had any known health issues — my family did ‘Grandma’s last trip to Vegas!’ and ‘Grandma’s last trip to Disneyland!’ and ‘Grandma’s last trip to Arizona!’ events. On one hand, I’ve been praising her proactive approach to end of life planning so I really shouldn’t find fault in the framing of those trips, but on the other hand, I’m still weirded out by so definitively closing the door on the future. Maybe that’s something I’ll better understand if I get to be her age?

  • NolaJael

    This is something my partner and I see very differently and the primary reason is differences in family longevity. My family on both sides are long-lived people. I knew all four of my grandparents, two of whom are over 85 and still living semi-independently, had great-grandparents that lived to be over 100, etc. On the other side, my partner’s family does not have this longevity. All his grandparents have passed, his mother died of cancer in her 50s and his father is the only remaining of his sibling at the age of 62. So I’m more likely to be the one who stresses out about retirement savings and elder care issues, whereas my partner just shrugs and assumes that this is the kind of thing that can’t be planned for. But he has agreed to take in either of my parents should the time come. He volunteered that before we were even engaged, which meant a lot to me.

    • Cellistec

      I was thinking about the longevity issue earlier too, and realized that for all my anxiety about supporting aging parents and in-laws, the alternative is worse. I’d give anything for the privilege of taking care of my dad, who died several years ago. Maybe that perspective will help me approach the prospect of caregiving more gracefully.

  • Lulu

    Our financial advisor asked this, and I’m so grateful. It was a space where we could acknowledge how emotionally charged it is, but then somewhat set emotions aside to get pragmatic about where our desire to help fits among all of life’s other obligations. It is also a helpful conversation starter with parents and siblings: “Joe the money guy said I should ask…” We’ve figured out nothing so far, but I at least feel like we have a framework for approaching it.

  • Lawyerette510

    With my husband, his sister lives across the street from his parents and currently they put a lot into helping her and her husband take care of their kids, accordingly, the expectation is that they will be the ones to take the lead on care of that set of parents if needed when the time comes, because they have built and plan to continue their life in that community. Thankfully my mom has long-term care insurance that would pay for her to be in a very good specialized care facility were she physically or mentally disabled (including memory care issues), it is not that I am opposed to caring for her, but it is that she wants to be able to have options and she knows the toll that primary care giving takes emotionally and financially. That said, it is very likely that at some point we will want to be physically closer to my mom just to be a resource to her as she ages. She currently bounces between Texas (where her mom still lives independently at 96, and my sister lives) and New Mexico. I am encouraged because her home in New Mexico has an in-law unit, and my husband and I have discussed with each other as well as her how well it would work in the future for us to live in one part of the home and her in another if the time comes. If she wants to age in my hometown, that would be a harder discussion, as my husband is reluctant to live there; however my sister is setting down deep roots there. My dad is the wild card, he makes choices that are unhealthy (emotionally and physically) and he can be mercurial. He is in my hometown as well, and is closer to my sister. At the end of the day, it is difficult to think of logistics where we would be primarily responsible for him that don’t involve moving to my home town, which right now seems very hard to imagine.

    All of that is the long way of saying, my husband and I have considered these aspects as something that could happen really at anytime but realistically are more likely to come to a head in 10 to 15 years. Some of the possibilities are easier to see than others, and ultimately we try to not get too focused on it, as it is hard to truly see that far ahead. That said, I am not uncomfortable with the idea of hiring people to be the primary care-givers for parents, or placing parents in good facilities. I love my parents, but I also love my husband and my career and for me sacrificing those things to be the primary long-term in-home care-giver to my parents or his is something that would likely be a last option.

  • JenC

    For us there’s always been an understanding that my mum will probaly move closer to us and we have told his parents if they want help as they age they need to be willing to move back to this country. On his side, he has a brother but I imagine care will fall to us more than him. On my side I’m an only child for my mum. None of our parents would want to move in with us, an annex might work so they have their own space but it’s not something we can probably afford. The preferred option for everyone would be supporting parents locally and fortunately they seem to understand they might have to move to us if they want support (let’s hope they can remember that as they age and it’s not just because they’re early fifties and agreeable at the minute).

    The thing that’s thrown us a curveball at the moment is the death of my aunt. That has understandably knocked my grandparents and even though they’re young(er) the loss of their daughter has aged them and impacted their health. So previously, my mum and aunt would have shared the responsibility of caring for my grandparents and they were both quite amenable to that. But now it’s just my mum and she’s caring for her two parents who have aged overnight with no support and dealing with her own grief. There is nobody else to care for them, we live too far away and my only cousin is 5. If something should happen to my mum whilst my grandparents are still alive I become the only one able to care for them. They’re too old to move and I don’t know if I can move them if they lose all of their children because they will need their friends with them (they lost a child 40 years ago so my aunt is the second of three children to die). At the same time I can’t uproot our lives to care for them, both our jobs, our home and honestly they’re 70 now would they survive the death of another child? It’s something that has been playing on mind and I don’t know the answer to that particular problem. I know that my thinking is really morbid but recent experience has taught me that nobody is guaranteed old age and just when you think you have it worked out, life throws a curveball.

    • tr

      The best advice anyone ever gave me was “don’t borrow trouble”.
      Your own parents aging? Go ahead and make plans for that. Nothing in life is certain, but between your parens and your spouse’s parents, odds are, you’ll eventually be coming to that bridge in some form or another.
      But your grandparents? It’s highly unlikely that anything will happen to your mom before they pass away. You could theoretically come to that bridge, but you probably won’t, so there’s no need to worry about that hypothetical too much.

  • toomanybooks

    We’ve talked about it. Every account I’ve heard of parent(s)-moving-in seems to be accompanied by “this is really rough on your marriage/this is the end of your marriage.” So, ideally, it’s not something we’ll be doing (though I’m sure exceptions can be made depending on the situation – I’ll also note we both have siblings). We’re also not planning to have kids ourselves. Def putting the max amount matched into that 401k.

  • My mother-in-law (who is 10 years younger than my FIL) has insisted that she will live with us when she can no longer care for herself. I have insisted to my husband that he will be promptly divorced if he ever thinks this will happen. She has gotten to enjoy her retirement, and travel, and spend loads of money and have her fun–what makes her think I don’t want to enjoy my own retirement too instead of taking care of her? We’re also raising a family–I can’t be a full-time caregiver on top of everything else I already do, and I know my husband will not step up to the plate. When we bought our house, she made a passive aggressive joke about how the extra room will be “her room.” It makes me anxious thinking about it. My parents on the other hand would rather not be a burden. This is definitely one of those situations you just put off and put off until you finally have to deal with it.

    • z

      +1. Let’s talk about much-younger step-parents! My stepmother is 15 years younger than my dad, and only 10 years older than I am. I have ZERO interest in caring for her through my 80s. I love that she takes care of my dad. But he also takes care of her– she’s been retired and having fun with him since she was 40, and he adopted and parented her son through some very irresponsible choices. She never parented me, nor does she grand-parent my children. I have my own mother to think of as well, and I’m not interested in doing 30 straight years of elder care. My dad refuses to discuss this topic.

      • z

        Typo. She’s 25 years younger than my dad. :-)

      • tr

        Not to be a jerk, but she has a son. She’ll be his issue to deal with.
        I totally understand the rock and hard place with your own divorced parents (trust me, I’m staring at the exact same boat right now), but you truly don’t have any responsibility for a step-parent who came in after you were grown and has children of their own!

        • z

          I hope he will step up! He has not been Mr. Responsibility thus far. But I am really not doing it, so I hope he matures. I am maxed out with my own mother, spouse, children, and working. I don’t dislike my stepmother but there are only so many hours in the day and I think it’s better for everyone to be clear about my plans.

    • Yikes, it sounds like you have a series of very uncomfortable conversations to have with your husband and in-law family.

  • z

    It’s so, so hard. Having divorced parents makes it really hard. They both live far from me and each other, so there’s a lot of travel time and expense for me, as well as helping them with two houses and eventually selling two houses and finding two assisted living places. The divorce injured them both financially. They don’t get along well enough to both live with me simultaneously. People don’t think about this stuff very much when getting divorced, but what I am going through now is far, far harder than the actual dissolution of their marriage. The complexities of stepsibling relationships and finances are really tough.

    To add insult to injury, my mom is still with the guy she cheated on my dad with, so she spends all her time caring for him and I’m left to deal with my dad without her help. It would have been her job, but she opted out by getting divorced, and I’m not willing to do that to my dad. Her co-cheater has not made good financial choices, so she is choosing to support him, and ultimately that will mean me supporting her when her money runs out. I really wish she could have cheated on my dad with someone more prudent instead.

    • Amy March

      It doesn’t have to. You don’t have to do any of this. If you have this much bitterness towards your mother it’s totally fine to say “hey heads up, I am not in a position to take care of you in your old age so best be planning with that in mind.” You aren’t required to martyr yourself.

      • z

        I know I don’t have to, but I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think I’m bitter for stating the reality of this situation– that’s not a very nice thing for you to say. I don’t want to refuse to take care of my mother. Actually saying that to her is very depressing to imagine, and much more complicated than you might think. It would be very damaging to my sibling relationships, and to my children’s grandparent relationship. Is that a price I’m willing to pay, and to make my children pay?

        I actually would be happy to take her. Or my dad. But not both at once and definitely not Affair Man. I profoundly resent that their choices have put me in a situation with no good choices. Divorce casts a long shadow.

        • z

          And let me be clear: I have told her many times that I won’t be able to support her if she runs out of money. But she knows I wouldn’t have the heart to follow through on it. So it doesn’t change her behavior. I really don’t know what it would take. There is no good answer here. I hope you don’t get in a situation like this.

        • Amy March

          I’m sorry. Referring to your mother’s partner as her co-cheater and affair man to me conveyed bitterness. Obviously it’s not an easy decision to refuse to support your parents, but I think people do forget sometimes that it is a choice and I wanted to make sure you hadn’t.

          • z

            Thank you for the apology.

      • z

        I mean really, think about it. It’s nowhere near as easy as just saying you won’t pay, and it’s very important that people understand that. Do you know what happens to the indigent elderly? Have you ever been to a charity-funded nursing home? My mother is 65 already and her Affair Man is 70. The time for planning is long since past. And if she were any good at planning, we wouldn’t be in this situation.


  • emilyg25

    We’re lucky that we both come from families that value financial planning and have the wherewithal to plan for retirement. I’ve *always* contributed at least enough to my retirement plan to get the company match. We will manage care for our parents, but not make financial contributions.

  • CommaChick

    Many of these comments remind me of a piece I read in the Washington Post recently. It actually talks about how the number of multigenerational homes is falling. However, the part that stood out to me was the difference of opinion about treatment between the primary caregiver and other relatives and the emotional struggles they all face.

    “It’s typically the son or daughter who has been physically closest to an elderly parent’s pain who is the most willing to let go. Sometimes an estranged family member is ‘flying in next week to get all this straightened out.’ This is usually the person who knows the least about her struggling parent’s health; she’ll have problems bringing her white horse as carry-on luggage. This person may think she is being driven by compassion, but a good deal of what got her on the plane was the guilt and regret of living far away and having not done any of the heavy lifting in caring for her parent.”

    [Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/our-unrealistic-views-of-death-through-a-doctors-eyes/2012/01/31/gIQAeaHpJR_story.html%5D

    • Lawyerette510

      I’ve seen something like this play out with my mom and her siblings. She lives closest to (within half a mile) and acts as the daily resource for their mom, and about 8 hour drive away her sister lived closest to their dad (when he was alive) (1 block away) while their brother is a 5 hour plane ride away. He and his wife occassionally drop into situations with strong opinions, then are back on the plane before the situation is resolved. My mom and aunt don’t tend to second-guess one another because they “got it” but my uncle hasn’t been in either of their situations.

      • KEA1

        Yep. This. That quote in particular rang agonizingly true, both from watching what my mom went through in my maternal grandparents’ final years and from knowing just how real of a possibility some of that may eventually become for me.

    • Sarah E

      It also plays out within really limited geographical settings. My mom lives two doors down from my grandma, and my brother lives with my grandma. They are primary caregivers, and thanks to my mom’s self-employment, she can be home at lunchtime every day, as well as an evening check-in at least. My aunts and uncles don’t really see this level of care. Mom’s schedule is considered so flexible as to be optional, rather than acknowledging the long hours she puts in around my grandma’s care. And folks tend to remember Grandma when she was well, rather than as is she is right now.

      Honestly, it’s probably the hardest part for Mom. She’ll gladly stay close and make sure she’s available, but most of the hurt comes when the rest of the family is dismissive of her (huge) efforts.

  • Anonymous

    Y’all. I know I’m coming late to the party and this is only somewhat related, but TBH, I could use some

  • Sarah Shinyhelmet Stovetop

    I actually have a lot to add to this conversation for once! Unfortunately, I’ve recently become a bit of an expert in elder care. Here’s my experience, and things I wish we had known ahead of time.

    My fiance and I started this conversation very early, because three months into dating my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. As a millennial with an elder parent (my dad is 76) I was the first person in my circle of friends to encounter this. I always thought that my dad would live in a nice facility or retirement complex, so when he was sick and could no longer care for himself it was natural that I looked into these options first. So imagine my SHOCK when I discovered that most retirement communities request $30,000 APPLICATION FEES or $250,000 ENDOWMENTS in order to secure a place. Obviously, this was not an option that was going to work. So I looked into government elderly housing. Aside from being deeply depressing, many of these homes had a TWO YEAR waiting list or longer. Because of my father’s rapidly declining condition, we just didn’t have that kind of time. My fiance and I have had a very strained relationship because discovering these things, along with my father’s illness, was exhausting and deeply sad. Luckily my sister (WHO IS A SAINT) was able to rehabilitate her home to accommodate his needs and he lives with her and his grandchildren. My siblings and I (there are six of us, a lucky deal….it makes everything so much easier when everyone does their part) provide as much support as possible to my sister so that she doesn’t feel the full burden of his care.

    Also through all of this I discovered that my dad had never made any preparation for his later life. No savings, nothing. I wish I had discussed later life with him WHILE he was healthy. There are later-life insurance plans so you can put money towards long-term care in later life. With people living longer and longer, my fiance decided that we will start this plan after we get married, now in our late twenties, with the hope that we will have at least $1 mil set aside by the time we are in our seventies. That way we can decide if we want to be in a retirement community and have that money available, or if one of us needs extended hospital stays or palliative care. We are creatively frugal to pay our student debt and prepare for our elder life, while providing for my dad. It’s very sad to see my dad so sick, but I also feel a lot of resentment at the lack of planning. Hopefully we’ll be able to have the frank kind of conversations I wish my family had with my inlaws to find out what they have prepared for their later life, and to figure out how we envision their eldercare.

    • Sarah Shinyhelmet Stovetop

      PS caring for my dad has made me seriously question whether or not I want to have kids, and fiance is on the same page. There’s only so much caregiving I have inside me, and I just don’t think I can live a lifetime of constant care. Of course I will always do what is my duty to my parents and make sure that they are well cared for. But with my dad being so much older than my mom (20 years) who knows, I could be looking at 10-15 straight years of caregiving WITHOUT children in the picture.

      • AP

        This totally resonates with me. I watched my grandmother care for her own mother after a stroke/dementia for years. Then after she died and the spare bedroom was free, my grandfather’s mother moved in and lived with them until she died (thankfully she was much more able to care for herself right up until the very end.) Then my grandfather’s brother had a debilitating heart attack and needed care during his recovery. He’s independent now, but he still lives with them. She also traveled to her sister’s home every few months to help care for her in her last years. In all, my grandmother spent 20 years caring for her own children, then another 10-15 caring for her adult relatives, and it’s looking like she’ll be caring for my grandpa soon as well…it’s just a lot. She didn’t work outside the home, which turned out to be a blessing in this regard. And my mom helps her quite a bit now that she’s semiretired. But I see all this, and see how I’ll very likely end up with the responsibility of caring for my parents and helping with the care of my grandparents…and it makes me seriously rethink adding kids to the mix (especially on top of a full time job.)

        • Sarah Shinyhelmet Stovetop

          Yeah. My sister, who is caring for my Dad, is 25 (I think….?) years older than I am, and part of the reason I’m like KIDS NO is because considering the dedication and love she is giving to my Dad, I 100% want to be extremely active in caring for her and her husband when they age. I will absolutely help my nieces care for them. They are the approximate age of normal parents (instead of crazy age-different parents) for me, so I will probably be taking care of them and my Mom and Step Dad at the same time. Eldercare seems to be something I’m really good at, so I figure that is how I can contribute to the family….instead of adding to the family line. (Which is doing JUST FINE, btw. I have so many nieces and nephews that at my Dad’s 75th birthday they had to come in SHIFTS.)

    • z

      I’m so sorry you’re having to go through it. Honestly, there is so much variation in how old millennials are and how old their parents are, that I’m not sure it even makes sense to discuss them as a group. My own parents are boomers and I can totally, totally relate to the lack of advance planning– not just that but the blatant, outright, willful denial of the possibility of mortality. Drives me up the frickin’ wall.

  • Anonymous

    Y’all. I know I’m coming late to the party and this is only somewhat related, but TBH, I could use some support. In the last few days my husband and I have found out that our niece (his sibling’s daughter) is in a terrible and unsafe home situation. After talking about it with his family, everyone agrees that the best thing would be for her to come across the country to live with us (we’re the only ones on either side of the girl’s family who has anything close to a stable home life) until things settle down which, given the situation, could be a while. As in months, or years. We both feel want to do anything and everything that we can, obviously, and the priority is her safely and well-being. But y’all, we are not parents. We decided a long time ago that we never wanted to be parents, and my husband had a vasectomy last year. It’s just never been a question for us or a thing we disagreed on. And now we’re looking at taking in a 7-year-old for who-knows-how-long.

    So I guess I’m kind of freaking out and for some reason, writing it down seemed like a thing that might help. Obviously we have to put on a calm face for everyone, especially our niece, but inside I’m panicking. Like, what if she hates my food? Or has trouble fitting in at school? What if she hates US? What if we were right and we’re so not cut out for this? What if we’re wrong and want to have kids all of sudden? I just keep focusing on the fact that this is what she needs, and what we can offer.

    Not sure how coherent any of that is, but thanks for listening/reading.

    • Sarah Shinyhelmet Stovetop

      Many blessings to you during this massive change in your home. What huge hearts you and your husband have, opening up your home to this young one in need.
      Recently, while my family was preparing for my father to move in with my sister, she voiced a lot of the same concerns. What if he isn’t comfortable? What if his lifestyle is too different from ours? What if he hates the food? Doesn’t like having kids around?
      But HE voiced almost the exact same concerns IN REVERSE. What if I make them uncomfortable? What if I don’t fit in with their home life? What if I’m too loud in the night? What if I scare the kids with all my breathing equipment?
      In the end, it seems to have worked out because both parties are sooooo concerned about making it work. I wouldn’t be surprised if your niece is just as worried about you liking her as you are about her liking you. Primarily it sounds like she is in need of looooooots of emotional care, and it sounds like you’re the person to provide it. Meeting that need will probably take you both a long way. Best of luck!

      • Anonymous

        Thanks so much for the support everyone. It is really helpful to hear that we are not totally out of our minds with this. Luckily my husband teaches at an amazing school in our neighborhood, so we will be able to enroll her easily and I’m planning on asking a lot from the folks there who are way more qualified in little ones! The pediatrician is a wonderful to, as are online support groups. Thanks so so much for the kindness.

    • z

      It’s good of you to do this. You are right to be seeking support– it’s going to be challenging for everyone. I’m far from an expert here, but you could start by finding a pediatrician. All kids need regular checkups and your niece may need care when she arrives. The pediatrician could help refer you to other resources such as child and family therapy, developmental specialists, and parenting support groups. Another idea is to figure out where she will attend school and then see the guidance counselor or social worker to get their input and recommendations. There is more support than you might think! Tell us generally where you live and we can be more helpful.

      If there’s a local parents’ email list, that can be a gold mine of information, cameraderie, and tons of free stuff.

    • Violet

      Hang in there. You can do this. I can’t tell you what it will look like, but you’ll figure it out. A stable home is what she needs, and you can provide it. Everything else is to figure out one day at a time, so gradually, that you won’t even realize you’re figuring it out.
      One thing to know about kids, and you might not get it on a gut level until you experience it, but they are very forgiving of adults’ “mistakes.” You will inevitably do or say the “wrong” thing. You’ll regret it afterwards, and worry about it, and think you messed up. But a few days later, you’ll be presented with almost the identical scenario, and you’ll remember you didn’t like how you handled it the last time, and you’ll try something else. The first time it happens, it might be really jarring. You might feel freaked out and upset, and question whether or not you can do this. You can. Just remind yourself this is one of those times, take a deep breath, and sit tight until your second chance comes along.
      Oh yeah, and line up a pediatrician, like z says. You got this.

    • LucyPirates

      You are clearly great people who care very much for your niece.
      Not the same but I can draw parallels with the fact that dating my fiance has made me jump from young free and footloose for most of the year to a step mum of a 6 year old boy who stays with us for weeks at a time in his holidays. I am different in that I do want kids but wasn’t quite prepared for this and don’t have the benefit of watching him grow up as my child.

      I had the same worries but all I can say is
      – they will assume you know what you are doing so blag it.
      – if you have their best interests at heart, you will make the right decisions, even if they don’t like all of them. The difference between parental figure and fun adult is that it is your responsibility to keep them on the straight and narrow, so rules and clear expectations help everyone.
      – get interested in what they are interested in and join in – I currently am an expert on dinosaurs, power rangers, star wars and lego.
      – Don’t take anything they say too personally, give them the grace of being immature
      – be kind to yourself. Know when to tag in your partner and say I need a break or need to step away for a moment.

      All the best of luck with your new adventure.

    • lady brett

      my honey and i have something of a mantra that “we can do anything for a year.” it’s how we get through the hard shit (like, i’m still not sure i am cut out to parent the baby that’s *due today* – but we can do anything for a year, and i do know we can parent a kid). your timeframe doesn’t have to be a year, but figure out how much of your time you can give to her, even if it *is* awful. like, find a new solution at the end of the semester? school year? when she’s 9?

      which isn’t to say it will be awful. but it’s a huge transition and it is at least bound to be hard. transitioning takes time, but then it’s done. if she’s not used to your food, she’ll probably balk, and then she’ll get used to it (more or less). and the same for school, and for y’all (i mean there might be bigger issues there, but don’t panic about them ’till they happen, because they might not, and you can’t generally fix problems that haven’t happened yet (easy for me to say, i’m not the one that has something to be freaked out about =)).

      more specifically, i highly advocate doing your research – read up on parenting (there’s a lot of bs noise out there, but there is a lot of great research as well – and much of the bs is about babies, so you get to read the rather more sane stuff), read up on trauma or neglect – i don’t know the details, but it sounds likely relevant, and it changes kids and parenting (like, how you deal with food changes a lot if she’s worried there won’t be more). talk about parenting decisions with your husband, because you weren’t planning to do this, you may not know what each other think about stuff, and perhaps more important than being on the same page is knowing where you’re not and figuring out how to navigate that.

      good luck! you can do this! probably. but it really is okay if you can’t, too.

      i think you are focusing on exactly the right thing. it’s a huge thing to take on, and very brave of y’all (it’s still brave, even if y’all feel like it’s just what had to be done). <3

  • z

    I don’t really know if elder care is going to affect millennial marriages in a way that’s different from other generations, if that’s the original question of the post. It’s an interesting question though. I’ve long thought that the age range for millennials (born in 1980-2000 by some definitions) is so broad as to be unhelpful. You could be a millennial and also have parents who are millennials, FFS. Someone born in 1980 could have parents in their 70s– older Boomers– and someone born in 2000 could have parents who are not even 40 right now. So there’s a huge range. It’s not like difficulties with elder care are a new invention. Millennials aren’t the first generation to have a high divorce rate among their parents. There are a lot of economic issues, but it’s not universal among millennials or their parents. Maybe more culturally mixed marriages? I dunno, maybe not. I don’t know what other differences there might be…

    • z

      I guess the one thing that comes to mind is that there may be more gender equality in caregiving. That would be a nice thing.

    • tr

      I don’t know that there are truly any new issues, but I do feel like timing may be different than it once was–baby boomers and Gen Xers waited longer to have kids than any of the generations before, so the percentage of millennials dealing with these issues at 35 or 40 will probably be higher than it was in the past. (Prior to The Pill, if you had a child in your mid-30’s, it was probably your fourth or fifth child, not your first.)

      I know that at 30, the whole aging parent thing is definitely already on my radar…because my parents and in-laws are now in their mid-60s. On the other hand, when my parents were 30, their parents were just turning 50. If all else stays the same, I’ll be dealing with elder care 15 years sooner than my parents did. I don’t know that that’s inherently better or worse, but the simple reality is that caring for parents at 35 presents a different set of challenges than doing it at 50.

      • z

        Yeah, I think it could go either way. It’s very hard to be dealing with elder care while also having your own kids and being early in a professional career. But being older is no picnic either. My aunt was 75 when she was caring for her 95 year old mother. They both had a lot of physical ailments at the same time, and my aunt also cared for her slightly older husband at the same time because he was sick. If my aunt and uncle had been 65 and 70 instead of 75 and 80 it might have been a lot easier.

      • z

        Smaller families is definitely a thing too, although that trend starated before millennials. And again, it could go either way. More siblings to share the caregivers, but also more elderly aunts and uncles to consider.

    • s

      I can see the totally abysmal home ownership percentages that millennials have (due in part to the recession, student debt, etc) affecting this issue a lot. We’re the only ones of our friendgroup that own a place, and it’s a converted apartment condo, definitely not the classic single family home with tons of space. We’re lucky to have an extra bedroom.
      And yeah maybe our parents own a place, but so many of us are so far flung now — are people really going to give up their lives and jobs in x place to move 900 miles home to their hometown to live in their parents basement all over again?
      Our parents also /tended/ to be older when they had us, so these conversations are coming up sooner in a lot of ways, which puts the pressure on the housing situation even more so.

    • Keeks

      There have been a lot of changes in medical technology and care that prolong life. It used to be, generally speaking, you would get sick and then you died not long after. For example, in the 1960s my mom’s dad passed away from leukemia within 5-6 months of diagnosis. The only way to treat him was with blood transfusions! Now she is dating a man with the same type of leukemia, and it’s seen as a chronic condition. Same with my grandpa- he’s had congestive heart failure for half my life but you would never know with the way he carries on.

      On the other hand, last year my grandma with dementia was found in her nursing home room unresponsive, rushed to the hospital, and found to have liver cancer. The doctors would have tried to treat the cancer if my family hadn’t stepped in and said, she has dementia, she has a DNR, she really just needs hospice care now. She would have lived longer, but her quality of life would have been terrible (and SO costly).

      I guess my point is that there are so many different ways of aging and dying now because people tend to live longer, with conditions that can be managed or treated.

  • Anyone have any experience, firsthand or no, of just… completely not helping aging parents?

    My father sexually and emotionally abused me when I was child and though I still have something of a relationship with him and my mother, it’s a very strained and painful relationship. I’m an only child, and my parents are geographically isolated from the rest of their families by choice and don’t have a community of any kind.

    The idea of my parents, especially my father, moving in with my partner and me is just not an option and frankly the idea of caring for my father in any way, financially, emotionally, physically, whatever, turns my stomach.

    I don’t know the details of my parents retirement plans, but if it’s anything like the planning in the rest of their lives, it’ll be inadequate to cover anything beyond “we’re fine and will live forever!!!” I have no problem being frank with them about the stance my partner and I plan on taking — no, you can’t count on us even a little to help you if you don’t plan for contingencies in your retirement or fail to plan at all — but then what?

    Like, I guess my question is, what does completely opting out of caring for parents even look like? What happens if the worst happens, parents don’t have things set up to cover themselves, and no one steps in?

    I feel like a monster when I imagine not helping them, but then I remember that my parents were also monsters.

    • Violet

      I mean, I can’t tell you how to feel, but I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying I were a monster, if I were you. This is pretty classic “reap-what-you-sow” behavior on your parents’ part. I don’t think it practically looks like much on your end. On their end it might mean they have to try to get some social services set up for themselves when their finances run out. But that’s for them to figure out. Just keep taking care of yourself.

    • z

      I’m so sorry for what you have been through. I think what happens is, when they are truly out of money and cannot care for themselves, they would fall back on public services. Medicaid and other things for people in poverty. Medical and social services providers attempt to locate next of kin. So you could expect to be contacted sometimes, and you may have to be absolutely unequivocal with them that you are not a resource in any way. But there are professionals who deal with these situations, and it’ll play out in the same way that it plays out when the people in question do not have any close relatives at all. It’ll be tough, but it can’t last forever. It will pass. Take care of yourself.

    • Arie

      Thank you for asking this question. You are not alone!

    • k

      Thank you for voicing this! I have the same question – I cannot help one of my parents. But what will happen to them because of this?

  • macrain

    I tend to feel helpless and frustrated when topics like this come up, because my parents will not discuss it. They have no plan (or if they do have one, they won’t share it with us), and they also have no will. My sister’s husband is a lawyer and has offered to help them make one, and they usually dodge the issue. I believe this has the potential to destroy the relationships between me and my siblings when the time comes. This does make me think, however- while things are good with us, we could discuss it amongst ourselves even if our parents won’t.

  • Jenna

    I have no idea what to do about this personally. My husband’s parents are financially secure but my dad is not. Not due to any fault on his part, but due to a lifetime of bad luck, including grad school that didn’t pan out due to an unexpected pregnancy – the one that produced me! – to unemployment to buying a house just as the market crashed and IBM left town to more unemployment due to company malfeasance that we had to sue over – and won – to my mom’s illness and passing to his own heart problems.

    And the fact that I even feel I have to defend why my family is not that secure says a lot about how the comparatively powerful view the comparatively struggling folks barely hanging on to middle class and how ingrained it is in me to defend such a thing!

    We live abroad. We are fairly comfortable but between furthering our education for professional reasons, previous student loans, several trips home during my mom’s illness that I’ve still not financially recovered from, the lower cost of living and therefore lower incomes here, and even the need to travel home once a year or so generally, along with saving for our own long-term wellbeing (which isn’t as secure as it should be), we just don’t have any extra money to set aside to help my dad should he need it. And we don’t have kids – imagine how bad it would be financially if we did!

    That is a big problem, because he will probably need it.

    He can’t really move in with us, because we live about as far away as it is possible to live on Earth, and I don’t even know how I’d get him a visa to come here. Not that I think he’d adjust well to life in a country whose two main languages he does not speak in an apartment that is great for us but would feel crowded with a third person living here permanently (we have a guest room but it’s really only big enough for guests). I’m not sure he’d even be willing to leave his region let alone his country.

    We do not have plans to return because we couldn’t earn enough to be financially comfortable back in the US.

    But we can’t afford to hire people to care for him when that time comes. We can’t move back to where he is, even if we could get better jobs than we imagine we could in the US, because there are no jobs where he lives in our field.

    So…I honestly have no idea what we are going to do.

    For some people the question of “should they live with us or should we set money aside” is a moot one because neither is possible. And that is very worrying indeed.

    • Madeleine

      First, I’m sorry you and your family are experiencing these stresses. Long-distance caregiving is really tough.
      If you can afford a one-time consult with a licensed geriatric care manager, that might be worth it to have a professional spell out your options (social supports can vary from state to state). Also important: What does your father want? What sort of conversations have you had with him?
      Good luck!

  • Ebloom

    Seems like everyone has touched on some good points. One thing that I will add is that if you do become the primary caregiver for a parent, make sure that you already have an emotionally stable relationship with that parent, and seek emotional care for yourself regardless. It’s all too easy to fall into long lasting parent/child traps that turn into elder abuse because you never dealt with all the ways your parent emotionally hurt you. I’m so serious. I’ve seen grown-ups suddenly act like 13 year olds toward their elderly parents, and say incredibly terrible things. It’s so obvious to everyone watching what’s going on, but difficult to talk to the adult child caregiver about it when they just don’t get why their parent doesn’t understand x, y or z, and they’re in denial about how being a caregiver is affecting them. There are great caregivers out there who do cost money, but don’t have our emotional baggage with our parents. And the elderly parent, might actually prefer it too.

  • legal aid is for lovers

    FYI for everyone: as someone who worked in senior legal aid for several years, DO NOT overestimate Medicare’s contributions. Despite my experience (and me telling them, repeatedly), my family was still ‘shocked’ to discover that Medicare will not cover my grandma’s nursing home bills. Medicare covers exactly 100 days of nursing care after an accident–that means there is zero coverage for dementia or Alzheimers. Tons of people, especially of the Boomer generation, seem to base their end-of-life planning around the assumption that Medicare will just ‘cover it’ and that is very much not true. Educate yourself as soon as possible about your options, and if you’re in California, your best resource for information about government assistance with nursing care is California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform at canhr.org.

  • Audrey

    Thinking about this has been stressing me out lately.

    My mom is currently going through a really rough time with my grandmother, who wants to live at home and be independent but she’s just barely ok. My mom has been doing a lot of things for her for years and is feeling really overwhelmed.

    Meanwhile, I DESPERATELY don’t want my mother (parents are divorced) to come and live with my husband and I. This sucks because mom thinks us allowing her to live with us would solve all her problems: she’d have people here with her for emotional support, she wouldn’t have to worry about the money piece of where to live (we are MUCH better off financially than her, in fact I’ve already helped her out with a few things here and there), and we’d be there for her as she gets older. She understands that we probably wouldn’t want to care for her with dementia, but doesn’t understand why we don’t want her to live with us now.

    I feel awful. I don’t have anything like abuse as an excuse, I just find my mother exhausting and stressful to be around for long periods of time. I have no problem helping out “here and there” and if she managed to figure out a way to be closer to me rather than halfway across the country I think I’d like it.

    But I certainly don’t want her to be “down the street” and I am grumpy that she’s constantly asking me to help search for housing, etcetera for her. (It doesn’t help that she’s never really learned to use the internet very well.)

    Meanwhile my husband’s parents are very healthy (slightly younger) and not divorced, but he is also an only child so I’m sure we’re going to have to handle that. I find them a whole lot less stressful though – they are super independent and give us a lot of space — even when we went on a 1.5 week trip with them! So I feel even worse because I could imagine being down the street from the in-laws and helping them out a little in 10-15 years.

  • Hope

    I’ve been married twice, both times to the eldest son of immigrants whose grandparents lived in their home, and helped with the children, for part of their childhood. I saw both sets of in-laws do their best to care for grandparents in the home. This has completely changed my view of elder care. My grandparents lived independently until they died and I expect my father to try to do the same. But I am expecting my in-laws to move close to/in with us when they need more help.
    Incidentally, both my mil’s were nurses and we are most definitely not!

  • Hannah

    My mom was a single mom. She raised all 5 of us kids by herself until she suddenly died of a brain aneurysm 2 years ago. I am the oldest and I was 27 and engaged, living across the country. My sister was 25, married , with a 1 year old and pregnant with twins. The older of my 2 younger brothers was 22 and living on his own working as a mechanic. The younger of my 2 brothers was 19 and had just finished his first year of college on full scholarship. And my baby sister was only 15. I became my sister’s guardian. She moved in with my and my now husband. We were never really close as kids because there is a 12 year age gap. We are incredibly close now and we are all doing great. My mom would be proud. Our situation has prompted my husband to talk to his parents and brothers about the future. Right now his parents just turned 60 and still live in their ranch style home 3 miles away from one of his brothers and about 15 minutes from another brother. The plan at the moment is for them to remain at home for as long as possible and then if needed they will move to a wonderful assisted living/skilled nursing facility right near their current house.

  • Kat

    I know I’m just a teenager who loves dreaming about weddings so I don’t really comment on posts like these but for this one I feel like I need to. I had an elderly neighbor who should not have been living alone. She had trouble walking, she was forgetful, and she was a hoarder. This March, she died in a house fire. An electric cord was smoldering under a pile of papers and magazines, it caught fire. The house was such a mess that the fire department had a hard time getting in. She had no will or anything. She had had no contact with her two adult children for years. No one in the neighborhood even knew her children’s names. They found one of them after about a day of several neighbors online searching. It has just been so sad to watch. And because there was no will or power of attorney in place, the house had to go through the courts, which is expected to take another 10 months to a year. So please make sure your loved ones have these documents

  • AGCourtney

    I told my dad a few years ago that he could live with me if he needed me to later in life. Funnily, over the course of the next two years, this idea germinated that he could also help me get my first house. So, now my dad lives in the finished basement of our home, pays us rent, and we have live-in babysitting when we need it. Sometimes he drives me a little crazy, but all in all, it works out well.

  • Ellie Rockhill

    In my first marriage, I would never have dreamed of any of our folks living with us. My parents, my personal plan is that probably I will be the child in charge of each of my folks’ end-of-life journeys (they’re divorced). I have determined I would help my mother get into a decent care facility when she needs it, but would not open my home to her. My father is one of those men who would rather die tripping down the stairs alone in his home at 90 than in an “old folks home” so I intend on buying 10-20 acres of land, and building him a one-room log house on my property (an old dream of his) where he can live and we can keep an eye on him.

    My ex and I never talked about his plan for his parents, but he was on board with mine. We agreed about not ever living with family.

    Now, newly divorced/single and dating my best guy friend, I have found myself in an oddball circumstance living in the guest bedroom at my guy’s parent’s house. He lives there too, but in the basement apartment. At first I was like THIS IS SO WEIRD LIVING WITH PARENTS I CANNOT WITH THIS because I hadn’t lived with my parents in ten years. But after two months, I’m actually really happy with the multi-generational thing. It obviously helps that we all get along really, really well. We eat meals together, we socialize together in the evenings, and I spend time with his folks when he’s at work. I’ve found myself less lonely because of their friendship and company, and now when I think about having them in our home way day, I’m totally open to the idea. I welcome it, in fact.

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