Aging Parents and Adult Kids: Not Alone On The Aging Journey

Ed Kerns |
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I recently had the opportunity to visit with Rhonda Caudell, a Registered Nurse and Aging Parent Expert. For more than 25 years Rhonda has helped seniors navigate the challenges of maintaining independence while aging. Now her career has evolved to focus primarily on working directly with adult children of aging parents. In this role, Rhonda teaches and consults with adults who are concerned about a parent facing what she calls “their aging journey.”

Rhonda and I talked about the fears that accompany this aging journey. If you were to ask the average 80 year-old person what their greatest fear is it wouldn’t be death. What they would say is that their greatest fear is having to ask their adult children for money. Unfortunately, while this dilemma can weigh heavy on a person, the fear is such that it doesn’t tend to prompt them to action; instead, their pride keeps them silent.

Interestingly, the adult child often has the same fear. Not that they will run out of money (although it’s likely they’re no more prepared than the parent) but that their parent will get up the nerve to ask them for money. It’s understandable. Faced with the financial pressures they have in managing their own households and saving for their own retirements, the thought of also having to financially support a parent is one more added pressure that’s easy to keep putting off until you’re forced to deal with it.

Human nature being what it is, we shouldn’t be surprised that a common approach to this quandary both by the parent and the adult child is to simply hope it works out. I mean you asked your dad if everything was ok and he said, “Don’t worry, things are taken care of.” Maybe things are ok or maybe they’re not. I wouldn’t allow this statement to let you off the hook from having a deeper discussion, however, as it’s likely a red flag.

Instead, I recommend you do two thingsFirst, equip yourself to have this deeper discussion. This is where an experienced person like Rhonda comes in. After experiencing this so many times over the years, she shared with me how the problems that aren’t talked about often don’t just go away. In fact, what results is a reactionary process where the adult child is responding to one crisis after another. Not only is the parent paying a price at this point but the adult child pays an equally high price.

While some costs are obvious, many are hidden. These costs translate into lost income and can aggravate an already tense transitional time. Take, for example, the time to check on elderly parents or to advocate for them as they deal with medical, legal or financial professionals. An adult child can lose money potentially due to work absence from helping a parent take care of daily tasks. You can lose retirement benefits if you have to quit your job to take care of the parent and thereby lose your ability to save and access retirement savings plans. Perhaps the most insidious cost is the loss of peace of mind that results from the stress of not being able to get on with your own life as you await the next crisis.

So through her company, Endless Legacy, Rhonda has developed a variety of tools to help equip adult children have these important discussions with parents. Depending on the status of the child/parent relationship, she has resources available ranging from basic conversation starters and one-to-one crisis phone calls to programs designed to gain basic parent collaboration and even a collaborative comprehensive aging plan called the Aging Parent Roadmap. Here’s her ParentAgingPlanQuiz to help you gauge where you are in the process and to learn more.

Here’s the second thing you can do. Be proactive in planning for your own financial future. Remember, ultimately everyone’s financial life has one of two outcomes: You outlive the money or the money outlives you. The conversation you have with aging parents mirrors the same questions that should be posed at the start of the financial planning process: “What do you want? What do you hope for? What’s your idea of independence and dignity?” The one major difference is you have much more time to create the life you want by starting early versus someone who at the age of 70 is just beginning to wrestle with these questions.

You’ll likely have to make both a mental and a relational shift when it comes to helping your parents. You’ll have to make a mental shift as well in realizing your own Aging Journey has already begun. Start early enough so you can draw your own roadmap rather than have one drawn for you. Call Rhonda. Call me. The Aging Journey is best not traveled alone.