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When Should Adult Children Step In And Help Their Parents?

When Should Adult Children Step In And Help Their Parents?

79-year-old Betty drove into town on a sunny summer afternoon. As she pulled into a parking space in front of the shopping center, she mixed up the gas pedal and the brake and drove straight through a flower shop window. The police called Tammy, Betty’s daughter who lived nearby. As Tammy drove her mother home from the scene, she suppressed the instinct to say; I told you something like this would happen. Luckily, no one was hurt. So when should adult children step in and help their parents? Is it better to wait until they ask for help?

On several occasions, Tammy and her brother, Thomas, suggested that maybe it was time for her to stop driving and sell her car. “The last thing I want is someone making decisions for me,” Betty snapped back in reply. “As long as I have a driver’s license, I will drive myself around town.”

“But mom,” Tammy tried. “It’s dangerous. What if you need to stop short? Your reaction time isn’t as quick, and your legs aren’t as strong as they used to be.”

“Come on, how often do you really need to stop?” Betty joked with a smile, foreshadowing events to come. "I'll be fine. You don't have to worry about me." She reassured her well-meaning children.

On another occasion, Tammy and Thomas approached their mother with some pamphlets from an independent living facility. Betty was furious. “This is my home! Why are you trying to evict me?” Betty protested.

Helping Out Of Necessity

Following the motor vehicle accident, Betty’s license was revoked, and she agreed to sell the car. For the next year, Tammy drove Betty to her doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and the beauty shop. On the weekends, Tammy’s husband, Joe, came over to mow the lawn, rake the leaves, or sweep the acorns off the driveway.  

“I’m worried about mom; she’s not taking care of herself or the house,” Tammy told Thomas over the phone one Sunday evening. “She needs help.” The house is too much for her, and it’s too much for Joe and me too. He’s exhausted trying to mow two lawns every weekend. The house is starting to fall apart, and instead of fixing it, she is ordering junk from QVC. She has two food dehydrators, and both are still in the boxes. She needs a new tile floor and a new sink in the bathroom, and there are no safety bars in the bathroom, and I’m worried she will fall as she climbs in or out of the tub. I’m wondering how long she can stay here. The stairs are not getting any easier. I don’t have the room in my house, but do you think mom can come live with you?”

I’ll talk to Alice,” Thomas replied, “but I don’t think mom will agree. Her doctors are there. Don’t you think assisted living would be better?” Thomas lived a few hours away from his mom, and although he had a big enough house, both he and his wife, Alice had full-time jobs and two kids of their own. 

What Could They Do Better?

While Tammy and Thomas had the best intentions and were perhaps justified in their concerns, they did not consult Betty to ask her what she wanted. Instead, they left her out of their conversations about their plans and plotted behind their mother's back.

Ideally, the discussion about change happen over time. If a parent needs help, but has her full mental faculties, don't make decisions for her, instead be a listening ear, a sounding board for ideas. Don't tell her what to do, instead ask her opinion to get a sense of what she might like to do. Compliment her on how she has planned for retirement, and ask her opinion as you plan yours. If you've never talked about it before, try bringing up recent topics that you hear in the news as a conversation starter. 

If you have concerns about her safety, lack of socialization, or nutrition, bring those to her attention in a loving way. Ask what you can do to make things easier for her. Find out what activities she enjoys doing, or used to do and discuss ways she can become active in the community again. Ask her if she know what resources are available to seniors. 

Betty Is Not Alone

Millions of women and men are in Betty's situation, living alone as they pass through retirement, and at some point, they may need to decide to move. According to the most recent Housing America's Older Adults report from The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, 57% of adults age 80 or above live alone. "Over the next two decades, the aging of the baby boomers is projected to boost the number of single-person households age 80 and over to 10.1 million," most of those will be women. The 2019 Profile of Older Americans from the Administration for Community Living indicated that almost half of older women (44%) age 75 and over lived alone.

Asking For Help

If you need help talking to your aging parent about making adjustments to her current home, or moving into a community setting or with a family member, it is a good idea to seek out resources from a trusted advisor, social worker, therapist, or church pastor. 

Left unspoken, decisions about what to do in the event of a health crisis are likely to be uncomfortable or painful when an emergency arises. On the other hand, adult children find peace of mind when they know there is a plan in place or that their parent has thought about what they want. 

For nearly two decades, the Hurlow Wealth Management Group has helped clients plan financially for their end-of-life care in a thoughtful and personalized way. If you are retired and have not prepared for how you want to be cared for in the end, schedule a FREE consultation today to start the conversation.


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