Want a chance at a decent old age? Have a daughter.

thWhen middle-aged sons live with their parents, it’s probably because they’re underemployed or unemployed. But middle-aged daughters are more likely to bunk with their parents in order to take care of them, according to a new survey from Yodlee Interactive.

Men ages 35 to 44 are more than twice as likely as women to receive economic support from their parents, and more than three times as likely than women to live at home.

Oh, and daughters are more likely to provide “emotional” support as their parents age, regardless of living arrangements. In fact, 20 percent of the men surveyed say they do not plan to call or visit Mom and Dad as they grow old. Nice.

Maybe it’s because women are socialized to be caregivers. Maybe it’s because they’re guilted into it. My best friend from childhood cared for her father during a long battle with dementia, and also dealt with her mother’s congestive heart failure, despite working and having two kids.

When she asked her older brother for help he told her that because she was the daughter it was her “duty” to take care of their parents.

I am not making that up. And yes, it happened fairly recently, vs. back in the 1800s.

Or maybe it’s because men shiver at the thought of changing an adult diaper. I’ve done that. It’s not fun, but guess what? Sometimes it’s necessary.

Cue the MIL jokes

Oh, it’s not all bad news. Unless you’re an in-law, that is.

For example, 45 percent of all adults said they would chip in for medical bills for their parents and 53 percent said they’d help pay their parents’ living costs. The numbers for in-laws were 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they’d help their parents move closer when they got older, vs. 17 percent wanting in-laws nearby. Forty-six percent said they’d let their parents move in but only 19 percent said they’d want their in-laws living with them.

Which begs the question: What if your spouse wants to help his or her in-laws and you don’t? What then? Epic battles? “Your” money vs. “my” money? Separation? Divorce?

And what if your (or spouse’s) parents remind you, “Remember the years you lived with us when you were underemployed/unemployed? How about a little payback?”

Note: I am not saying that all middle-aged people are slackers. In fact, quite a few people are themselves helping grown kids and aging parents, sometimes simultaneously. According to the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of people in their 40s and 50s have helped a parent financially and 27 percent provide “primary” support for a grown child.

Put your own mask on first

The headline on this piece is facetious, obviously. My reason for writing it is twofold:

  • I want to remind women (and men) that they need to think of their own retirement plans when considering how much assistance they can afford, and
  • I want women to ask for help. Scratch that: I want them to demand help.

For plenty of people these days, the only retirement they’re going to get is the one they put into place and fund consistently. Constantly bailing out grown kids and/or parents could mean a frayed safety net at the end of your working life.

Please don’t be guilted into being the sole caregiver. Burnout is well-nigh  certain in such a scenario, and an exhausted/emotionally overwhelmed you won’t be as effective in helping the people you love. Get relatives on board either physically (to do some of the work) or financially (to buy you some assistance), and research agencies and local programs that will help.

Just as important: Realize that it really is OK to want some money of your own – both now and when you retire – and it’s also OK not to want to spend years (or decades) of your life propping up other people’s lives.

Yes, your parents raised you. Or maybe they didn’t. Yes, they took care of you when you needed it. Or maybe they didn’t. You owe them something, or maybe you don’t. But someone has to be in charge. If that’s you, then make sure you take care of your own needs as well as everyone else’s.

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  1. Thank you for an interesting and “spot on” article. DW experienced this very scenario described when she was providing care for her Dad. Her two brothers(i.e. “the ticks”) who were still living home, both in their 50’s, refused to pitch in with Dad’s care because “she was the daughter”. I swear those very words were used. DW has two sisters who for various reasons begged off which left the wife and I to take care of her Dad. The crazy thing is my wife, the oldest, recieved the least amount of support of all the siblings from her folks. The good news is …. we had daughters sooo…we’re set….right???

    • Donna Freedman

      Dude, you’re double-set. 😉 But I expect you’re making the same smart decisions about your retirement as you have regarding your current use of funds.

  2. Thank you Donna for the article, and especially this point: “For plenty of people these days, the only retirement they’re going to get is the one they put into place and fund consistently”

    I’m in my late 40’s, and no kids (never wanted to be a mother). Increasingly, there are more people making this decision, partnered or not. It’s so important to think through retirement, how you’re going to pay for it, as well as what your support network might be, for all of us, with or without children, with or without living parents…

  3. As a mom, something I want to make clear to my kids (both boys, although I’d feel the same way with girls) is that I chose to have them, which means they owe me nothing. The greatest gift I can give them is independence–my own and their own–fifty years from now.

    My views are a little radical. I know I shocked my sister when I told her that children should owe their parents nothing in an ideal world. But to me, deciding to become a parent is the most arrogant choice I’ve ever made in my life. The least I can do is make it clear to my kids that I am raising them because I love them more than anything in the world–and not because I feel that there will be some kind of tit for tat when I become elderly.

    That said, I know that the best laid plans have a way of ganging agley. But it’s my intention to live in such a way that my kids won’t feel obligated to take care of me in my dotage. That means I take care of my health and my finances to the best of my ability and I make plans for those agley moments. I wish every parent did the same.

    • Donna Freedman

      This! I want not to have to rely on my daughter to take care of me — and while some might question my choice of the freelance life, I’m making the smartest choices I can within the bounds of that decision.
      I know that in some cultures it’s the child’s duty to take care of the parents. That’s just not me. It’s not a lot of other people, either.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

      • Lisa O

        I agree with both of you. I brought 2 children into this world because I wanted them and I take care of them because I love them. I want to give them 2 things in life roots & wings….they always can come and visit me but they must follow their dreams and live their life. I have raised my children with a good education and that will allow them to be independent and able to stand on there own 2 feet when I am gone.

  4. It was always a joke in the household growing up that I’d be the one to take care of Mom and Dad because I’d be rich and successful but it was, at the time, a jab at my brother for being an academic slacker and at the silly outdated cultural expectations.

    In the end, it wasn’t such a joke when both Mom and I ended up as primary caretakers early on, and my sibling will never step up the plate so far as I can see.

    Luckily, though I don’t want to live with (or near, for now) either set of parents, PiC and I do feel similarly about our responsibility to our parents. Even if we don’t want to live with each others’ parents, we’ll find a way to manage, I think. I hope….

    • Donna Freedman

      If my dad needs help I will do what I can. Here’s what I won’t do:
      Go into massive debt to help him (it’s essential that I keep funding my own retirement, so I won’t burden my daughter — she’s got enough on her plate).
      Give up my job to take care of him 24-7 (see above).
      Assume that because I’m a daughter it’s my job rather than my brother’s.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. Boy, do I have stuff to say here. I am the mother of two middle aged sons. I thought we were a close family and I looked forward to their future wives and children expanding our small group. I always called and made holidays for them during their bachelor days. Neither married until their mid 30s.

    It didn’t take long for both of them to drop us like hot charcoal. I see one maybe once a year and the other I have not seen in four years. I have two stepsons who are even less attached to us.

    Husband and I are fine financially and we don’t expect a thing from them. But a little attention and connectedness would sure be nice. I really am stunned that the relationships turned out this way.

  6. I guess I will be SOL because I had 3 sons. Not my fault, I requested girls 😉
    But based on best guess at this point, they are age 20-24, one of them may help me. I can see & feel Anne’s pain. What is it with kids now? My hubby took good care of his mom who had Alzheimers. But the boys are nothing like him. It’s scary for me to think about old age.

  7. It sounds good in theory, but I am not sure how you “demand” help from people that you can’t control and who don’t want to help. And why would they help when they know you will meet the need if they don’t. My bet is that when you demanded help for your ex-husband, he didn’t just step up to the plate and do what you asked.

    If anyone has figured out how to demand help and actually make it happen, please let me know.

    • Donna Freedman

      Not sure to which comment your reply is based, since no one mentioned ex-husbands….?

      • You said, “I want women to ask for help. Scratch that. I want them to demand help.” Good look demanding help from someone who is unwilling to help. Your ex-husband is merely an example as my guess is that, based on descriptions you have given of him in the past, he wouldn’t have provided the help you need even if you demanded it. I would bet that the same would hold true for the working mother of 2 who was also expected to take care of her parents alone because her brother said it was her responsibility. How does she demand help from him when she has no control over him? It sounds as though this man has been enabled for most of his lifetime and he is used to someone else handling the hard stuff. The odds of someone like him starting to help overnight because she “demands” it of him are slim to none. From my observation, the women who have ended up in the most lopsided arrangements are those who grew up in enabling households and it is pretty tough to change the patterns others have developed over a lifetime.

        • Donna Freedman

          This is true. However, if today’s women can’t get help from family, they should seek help from agencies and organizations that might be able to provide assistance, either charitably or via Medicare.
          And believe me, I know a few things about enabling households and patterns. But things won’t change unless we demand it. Although it still might not happen, we need to get those conversations started.

  8. Jo Ann

    “Forty-eight percent of those SURVIVED” said…Hi Donna, love your blog. You need to fix this error….you probably mean surveyed?

  9. I will share that “Dear Wife” does not regret for one moment being there for her Pop…and neither do I. Though he passed we know we did everything we could for her Dad. The others….not so much. I also will share that it was quite the “circus” after his passing and settling the estate. The same folks who were too “busy” to pitch in were the same ones who felt “entitled”….Quite the “eye-opener”….

    • Aunt Leesie

      Have seen that, too, Jack. Sadly. My mom’s father lived with her for the last 5 years of his life, but had spent every winter with her from the time I was in college (my grandma, too, before she passed). Her siblings actually went to court over the will.

  10. Donna, you’re right — put your own mask on first! DH and I just bought, of all things, burial plots. DD was a little upset, but I told her that it’s one less thing for her and her DB (dear brother) to worry about when one of us dies. Beyond that, I’m planning as best I can for retirement so the kids won’t feel the need to take care of us. I always said that my aim in life was for my kids to say, “Can’t wait to see Mom,” instead of “We have to go see Mom.” I hope and pray that DH and I will always be able to take care of ourselves.

  11. Aunt Leesie

    It can go either way, really. When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer 2 summers ago, I flew out to stay with her post-op (she had a mastectomy) to help my sis who lives in the same town. One brother lives in the area, too. The only thing he could be bothered to do was fight with my sister and her husband. On the other hand, my brother-in-law lives with and cares for my in-laws… which has not been an easy position for him to be in, and we’re very grateful. Both sisters-in-law live in the same area with their families, but leave most everything up to my brother-in-law.

  12. Aunt Leesie

    Oops, should say it’s NOT the financial end of things that’s been in issue in either case. There are medical issues a-plenty, though, and that’s where family becomes very important.

  13. As a caregiver right at this moment, I have to say you hit the nail on the head. With my parent at home, it is only possible for me to work at home too because so often the home health aides cancel at the last minute(the cost for a live-in aide is astronomical.) Plus, I am often kept up half the night. Would love to see you do a post on earning income at home for those of us who were suddenly put in this situation without much prior “work at home” savvy.

  14. Oh hell no. If my husband ever refused to help our close friends or family, he wouldn’t be a man that I’d be married to. Luckily, we already agree that any of his family could live with us and we’d help them if they ever need it as they get into their golden years.

    My family is also more than welcome, except my mother – that’s trickier. We just butt heads and I argue with her crazy while my youngest sister caters to it (I’m talking actual imbalance – she is fine and then she has huge bouts of paranoia and looks for any reason to scream at me including about what bathroom I choose to use). The meds that she has tried so far haven’t worked and she stopped trying pretty quickly since she’s paranoid of all doctors now too. It’s a weird situation but I bet she’d want to live with either of my sisters before she’d set foot in my guest bedroom…

    Luckily or unluckily, my youngest sister is 100% supportive of all of my mom’s paranoid thoughts and beliefs. She still lives at home and has anxiety attacks when she is on her own. They have each other to help…

    • Donna Freedman

      At least you guys have talked about it. That’s key. I think problems arise for some couples when a mom or dad has a heart attack and a kid says, “Of course you can come live with us, Mom/Dad.” Meanwhile the other spouse is saying, “Huh????”
      It’s probably best that you don’t bring your mom to live with you. Near you if necessary, but not in your house. A wise woman knows her limits.

  15. Punkin Pye

    Somethng I would like to say to those of you who are parents and might need your children’s assistance in your old age. If you have a child/children who are dutifully and lovingly caring for you, please adjust your will accordingly. Incredibly, I have seen caretaker children shortchanged and neglectful children rewarded in the parent’s will. The parent sees the caretaker child as capable and able to get along without any help. They usually see the neglectful child as needing help or they are trying to get the neglectful child to love them even after they are gone. Also, my lawyer informed me that a will is not enough. It is easy to fight a will in court. What you need is a trust. A trust is much, much harder to fight in court. As a matter of fact, many lawyers will not event touch a case where someone is trying to fight the terms of a trust.

  16. Ro in San Diego

    Almost 20 years ago dear MIL suffered a brain injury due to an aneurysm in her brain. My husband, his sister and I were forced to start contributing to her support since she could no longer work. This task has now fallen upon her granddaughter who has volunteered to care for her. She is getting excellent care now with our angel vs. the way she’d been treated living with a low patience family member and also in assisted living. My husband and I still contribute to the care of his mom, and to a lesser extent to the care of my aging mother who has always been fiercely independent and able to live within her limited income in a way MIL has never been. Her sudden illness caused us all to pull together, and at times has been a huge burden. We are just happy she’s well cared for now. In lieu of monthly payment to a “home” we happily write checks to support caregiving granddaughter’s college career. We expect she will be graduating in approximately 2 years. We couldn’t be prouder of our young lady. But it’s hard – I won’t lie. In our case the burden of support fell to son and daughter; and now grand daughter.

    • Donna Freedman

      Many kudos to your family’s willingness to pitch in — and ultimate grace on that young woman. Sure, she’s getting support for her education but caregiving is hard at any age. How many young people would be willing to take on such a responsibility? Awe-inspiring.

  17. Ro in San Diego

    Re Punkin Pye’s comment – I am shocked with the greed I see in the lives of some of my old friend’s when their parents eventually pass. There are life changing fights over money causing rifts that tear siblings apart. I can think of only one family that split assets amicably (but there were some rude comments regarding the amount of money going to the dad’s companion’s family).

    Yes – people really need to update their wills to reflect which person has stepped up as caregiver. It’s such a travesty to see the greedy fights about money when the dear relative passes.

    Almost makes me happy that my husband and I have no relatives of means.

    • Donna Freedman

      That won’t be an issue in my family, either, given that my mother passed away with no real assets. I believe that when my stepfather dies the house is to be sold and the proceeds shared among the children; that’s a six-way split unless grandchildren are taken into consideration. I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care.
      Sure, it would be nice to receive a windfall. But fighting over it….ick.
      My dad’s wife is six or seven years younger and will probably outlive him. Their will, I believe, is the same: Dad’s insurance policy is to be split among his kids and when his wife eventually passes their mutual property is to be shared among family members. For all I know they’ve changed their will to leave every dime to the Tea Party. Point being: It’s not “our” money unless they decide to give it to us.
      Again: Ick.

  18. We have 2 daughters and 2 sons. As they got into their teen years, we used to joke with them about their having to take care of us in our old age and that we were keeping a “list” of the cost of all the things we had done/bought for them. Now when they ask a favor (pick up at airport, etc.), they say, “put it on the list”. Always good for a laugh.

    On a serious note, I have no doubt they will be around us when the time comes. How do I know this? Because they were for their grandfather. We never asked them to help grandpa–they just did it because they really, really loved him. Especially our youngest son. Could be because he was the only grandparent they’d ever known but I like to think it’s because we raised some pretty good kids; I mean adults.

  19. “Or maybe it’s because men shiver at the thought of changing an adult diaper. I’ve done that. It’s not fun, but guess what? Sometimes it’s necessary.”

    We, at Palma Bella, can celebrate that we have daughters then!

    All jokes aside though, While the overall design of women is indeed to nurture, us men can learn so much from the “duty” of women that ultimately can make us better men.

    What ever happened to the concept of “Man, the provider”? 20 percent of men won’t call their parents by choice!!?? Maybe because of some traumatic disconnect? Lord knows, I try to stay connected with my parents. But guess what? I practice that lovely habit, thanks to my wife and my sister.

    It’s no surprise that our family dynamic effects our financial life. This article really brings in some stunning numbers…we need to take care of own, as well as ourselves. thanks for this awesome insight.

  20. My husband and I are presently involved with trying to get his mother out of some very serious trouble. There is a long backstory; I (at least) saw this coming years ago. His father died in May after a lengthy decline and it turns out his mother basically stopped participating in family business in 2009. Unpaid taxes, unpaid utilities, unpaid medical bills, unpaid traffic tickets, credit cards in collections … .

    We live in Los Angeles and the parents (now just MIL) live in San Francisco. So far we’ve been up twice for multiple days of house cleanout and organization.

    The ONLY thing these two did right was set up a family trust. And my MIL has agreed to amend it so that my husband is primary administrator. His sister lives in Seattle, and though his older brother lives in San Francisco, he has done nothing to help manage the situation (past or present) and shows no aptitude for same.

    Incidentally, older people? If your children are adults, stop paying for whole life insurance *unless* the premiums are less than $50/mo. An agent managed to sell my FIL a policy when he (FIL) was 66 years old. The premiums were over $9000/yr. Perhaps needless to say, it eventually lapsed for nonpayment, but not before costing the in-laws nearly twenty thousand dollars.


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