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Are Adult Children Obligated to Care for Aging Family?

Springfield, MO— As I meet families during my consultations the one emotional topic that usually gets brought up is aging parents voicing that it’s their children’s responsibility to care for them as long as they can. This topic usually is brought up when there is already a negative family dynamic entailing resentment, guilt, selfishness, and/or victim mentality. Not only am I an advisor, but I sometimes have to put on my mediator hat when topics like this get brought up during my meetings.

Are the adult children obligated and made to feel guilty to care for their aging family? My answer isn’t black and white, and culture and family dynamics play a vital role, though I never agree with aging parents that aren’t empathetic and open-minded to their children’s work and family schedule.

In the generation I advise, most of the women were homemakers while the spouse worked long hours, and children’s extracurricular activities were not overloaded like they’re today. These days women are in the workforce full time along with running the family unit and taking kids to extracurricular activities. So when I hear aging parents say, “I raised and took care of them, now it’s their turn”, I don’t always agree. Of course, if we were in a different country the advice may be different due to culture and work-life expectations.

Another area aging parents don’t think about is the actual caregiving needs. Most children don’t want to provide personal care to their parents, especially the opposite sex; personal care entailing bathing, toileting, and dressing. Also, children don’t always feel comfortable being the authority to parents when they need to be and this can add more friction between the parents and children.
Usually, my advice is if the parents are financially sound and want to remain at home I recommend leaving the personal care needs to a trusted outside in-home care company versus the children. This will allow the children to just be children while visiting versus personal caregivers, so no lines are blurred. If finances are tight I advise discussing Medicaid options and other external financial resources, if applicable.

Wise proactive long-term care planning will not only alleviate a lot of stress for all parties, but also will not leave children in a predicament to provide personal care to aging family.

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