Balancing both a career and raising children is a difficult enough challenge. Add to that the need to also serve as a primary caregiver for aging parents, and it can become a herculean task.
When career and caregiving collide
Liz O’Donnell, the author of the book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman and a well-established voice of working mothers, is one of these working ‘sandwich generation’ daughters.
Two years ago, when O’Donnell, the mother of two elementary school-aged children, was promoting her book and working her day job, she was also taking care of her aging parents, who lived more than an hour away. On one particularly hectic day, she took her mother to the doctor, who anxiously asked why O’Donnell was not taking care of her full time.
“It was a really stressful moment,” she recounts. “I was sitting in his office and, for the first time ever in my career…I thought if I could quit, I would quit my job right now. This is all too much. My parents’ needs are only going to get greater, and I can’t do this. Never in 10 years of being a mother did I have that [feeling].”
O’Donnell, who founded WorkingDaughter.com, is far from alone. There are currently more than 40 million unpaid eldercare providers in the U.S., according to Census data.1 Often, the burden falls to women. But regardless of the caregiver’s gender, the financial impact can be staggering. A study conducted by MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average of $324,000 in compensation due to caregiving. For men, the number is slightly lower, $284,000.2
A twofold impact: emotional and financial
Unlike childcare, caring for aging parents involves playing in an entirely different emotional field. The arrival of a child is filled with anticipation, joy, and hope; caring for them is framed by those emotions. Assisting a parent the later stages of their life is almost the opposite.
“I never went outside and pretend-played with my best friend next door about taking care of a parent,” O’Donnell says. “It’s not something we ever think about until it hits us.”
There’s a complex set of emotional issues involved when caring for an elderly parent. Caregivers can be in a constant state of grief—dealing with a parent’s memory issues, their loss of mobility, or grappling with mortality.
The financial impact is also different than caring for a child, which typically happens significantly earlier in a woman’s career. Most women are hit with the parental caregiver role in their mid-40s—when they need to be saving for retirement and paying into government programs like Social Security for their own financial security.
“What’s happening is that so many caregivers are finding that they need to step out of the workplace or scale back at the workplace at such a critical time in their earning years,” O’Donnell says.
And hiring someone to help while you stay at work comes with a sizable price tag; an expense which also typically falls to the caregiver.
Start planning ASAP
Caregiving today requires a level of planning that previous generations never fully understood or embraced. Early on in their careers, younger people should be sitting down with their Truist Wealth advisor not only to plan for retirement and college savings, but also potential derailments from the commonly assumed ‘I’ll be able to work uninterrupted until age 65 or older’ narrative.
“This is not something that we have talked about in a major way,” O’Donnell says. “And it’s not something that many of us want to talk about…and yet it is going to be a major part of your earnings and your career and your longtime retirement planning, so the sooner we can address this with people coming out of school and into the workforce—with financial experts—I think, the better.”
As a working daughter, wouldn’t it be nice to be more financially secure as you age, while also having a strategy for meeting your parents’ needs? Your Truist Wealth advisor can help you develop a carefully crafted and comprehensive plan that addresses these kinds of future needs through retirement planning, investment planning, and income tax planning.
Your advisor can also help you address another key component of financial planning for you and your parents: long-term care. It’s best for children and their parents to sit down together with an advisor and develop this kind of plan, which involves a host of services designed to help maintain your parent’s sense of independence while easing potential financial burdens.
Someone turning age 65 today has a 70% chance of needing long-term care at some point during their life. And on average, women will need care for 3.7 years, while men will need care for 2.2 years. Yet only 11% of seniors have some type of long-term care insurance.3 Keep in mind too that the costs of long-term care have been and will likely continue to increase faster than the rate of overall inflation.
A national conversation
Through her work, O’Donnell is helping to bring this important conversation to the forefront, and eventually, she hopes to make this issue part of the conversation about working mothers and maternity/family leave. O’Donnell believes there need to be more resources available to working daughters, such as employee-sponsored eldercare support groups, a culture in the workplace that emphasizes flexibility and accountability sharing, and an end to the stigma around employees dealing with eldercare.
“I think it might take a while because, again, it’s just loaded with un-pleasantries. Nobody likes to feature that. I think we’re seeing it. I think we’re at the beginning of this really becoming a mainstream conversation,” she says.
The more we talk about it, and the earlier people think about this and begin to plan for it financially, the tighter the grasp on their own future—and the future of the parents they love.