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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