November 26, 2012

Balancing the Demands of Caregiving with Retirement Realities

What follows is a guest post from a woman with hands-on experience in the difficult task of managing full time care giving while caring for her own family as she and her husband plan for their own retirements.

This subject is one many of us must face and Sarah's experience could be quite helpful to you.

By Sarah Jennings

My husband and I have been caring for my parents in some capacity for almost ten years. When I look back on the past decade, my instincts are to mark the time in relation to those around me. For instance, in that time, our two sons have gone from adolescents to young adults, my father died and my mother moved in with us.

Rarely do I think about the passage of time from my own perspective; I have been so focused on the maturation that my sons were undergoing, and that of my parents, that I sometimes lose sight of an inevitable and timeless truth.

I am aging, too.

This reality has crept in from time to time over the years, but it is quickly dismissed as there are too many other things to focus on. Does mother need to have her prescriptions picked up? How are the boys doing in college? What's for dinner tonight?

But recently it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the unavoidable. As I approach 60, and my husband becomes eligible for social security benefits, I realize that I probably haven't been giving our own future enough consideration over the years.

My situation is all too common for caregivers who tend to their elderly parents, particularly those that are also in the midst of rearing their own children into adulthood. Over the years, I have devoured literature related to aging, scoured the Internet for tips and advice on managing a household that includes an older parent, and shared my knowledge and expertise on coping with the stress and difficulties of care giving.

Yet, I've seldom devoted much thought and energy toward planning for my own future.

Upon reflection, I do feel very fortunate that this issue comes up for me in a positive light – my husband has been offered an early retirement package – as opposed to a devastating medical diagnosis or something of that nature.

But I do admit to feeling somewhat blindsided by the thoughts of having to deal with change in my husband and I's life. For so long, my concerns have been on helping my close loved ones adapt to the changes in their lives, that it makes me feel that I've become ill-prepared to deal with them in my own life.

In truth, we're in a better position than many others dealing with similar issues. For instance:

· I'm fortunate to have a husband that is a bit more prudent with forethought than I am so our retirement investments appear to be relatively secure.

· We're also fortunate to not have to take a financial hit with the care giving, as my parents were financially secure enough that they have been able to contribute to the costs of the care we provide.

· I have a loving relationship with my mother and have (for the most part) been able to control the feelings of resentment that overcome many caregivers who choose to put their own lives on hold to care for aging loved ones. It took some time to learn how to effectively communicate with my mother, but once I did it made a world of difference. And as I said before, my husband and I (as well as our two boys), have been fortunate to be healthy and happy as we progress toward the latter stages of our lives.

But just because our situation is more stable than some, it doesn't mean it isn't fraught with challenges and difficulties. I have to force myself to think of our future and ensure that my care giving remains committed and loving, without turning into full blown martyrdom. The truth is that my husband and I have always had ideas about what we would want to do with our lives once we were ready to retire. Initially, those plans didn't include my 84 year old mother, but plans change of course.

But I'm learning that I have to plan for all eventualities, even if those plans have to be scrapped by circumstances nobody could have reasonably foreseen. For instance, I've recently had a discussion with my mother about the possibility that at some point in the future (let's say five years from now) if she is still – God willing – with us, that we may have to look into a senior living community. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't but we want to be able to be as flexible in our retirement as possible.

As of now, I still have a lot of work to do mentally to get my mind around the idea that I am also getting older and will soon be dealing with the same issues my parents went through just 20 or so years ago. In the meantime, I'll continue to practice effective communication with my mother, my husband and our children, so we can all be prepared to tackle whatever the future throws at us together.

Sarah Jennings took her mother into the family home in 2005, and hasn’t regretted it a day since. After years of seeking out the best care giving advice in print, she recently began sharing her own experiences online. Her writing appears courtesy of Brookdale Living, experts in skilled nursing care."

For an additional perspective on this important issue see "The Silent Cry of the Caregiver" in the October/November issue of AARP The Magazine (pages 86-91).

Note: I received no compensation for running this post from either Ms. Jennings or the organization she writes for.


  1. I guess this is the part of my life that keeps me from buying that big rig. I do not even live near my mother, but I do fly out whenever she is in need. I try to go out for several weeks to give my sister a break from her constant needs.
    When I traveled a great deal my father was ill. My company valued me enough to permit me to "stop over" in Phoenix almost every time I traveled West - about twice a month. I'd spend my "rest days" at Mom's, helping to care for dad. Some asked why I bothered--he was "in a nice place"--heck nice places still need extra eyes and attention.
    I miss my dad. I try to stay close to mom. I know that someday I will be without either. I already know that i am one of the "elders" now...weird.

    1. Your story is heart warming and a lesson in dedication and love. To live in Kansas and deal with your parents' needs in Phoenix must be quite a hassle, but one you have committed to.

      We are the generation who often finds ourselves caring for our parents and still occasionally dealing with our children moving back home or needing our direct involvement.

      Sarah's article is a good reminder of the need to maintain a balance.

  2. I do so admire a person like Sarah that faced the need for caring for her mother and did the right thing. But more than that I admire her spouse. I know that without his support she could never have even considered doing this. This is a conversation that a couple must have if they see such a situation in their future.

    Thank you for allowing Sarah to share her story.


    1. You are exactly right. It takes both partners to make all this work.

      Thanks, Barbara, and welcome home from Mexico.

    2. I'm a bit late to the conversation, but you are absolutely right, Barbara. I could never in a million years been able to pull this all off without the support of my husband. And without years of practice communicating and compromising between my husband and I, managing these difficult situations would have been impossible.

  3. I can speak to this topic as when we were raising our daughter my husband's parents were aging so I helped with them plus being a nurse came in handy.Recently my Mom was ill and died whole new experience with her being only 75 lung cancer,hospice etc.My Dad is 75 and has some health problems and we have a new grandaughter 6mos old now....I am really feeling the squeeze and the "what about my turn or life?" my husband and I are fast approaching 60 and thought we might travel but we have more responsibilities now and I have supportive siblings and a great relationship with daughter/son-in-law so I couldn't ask for more but I am whipped!

    1. My heavens...take a deep breath! Your situation is really the typical sandwich generation description: squeezed between the needs of your grown children and your parents.

      I have no great words of wisdom to help you get some time for you. But, you obviously recognize it is something that you need.