How much are they worth to you?

Survey suggests kids feel morally bound to support aging parents

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You might not want to hang out with me and my pals. The conversation isn't always uplifting: Retirement, fixed incomes, long-term care, assisted living, final directives and funeral plans.

And that's at a party.

But according to a survey by More magazine, we aren't having those conversations with the people who matter — our kids. So the editors did the work for us and asked, "How much time and money do you owe your aging parents? And how much do you, aging parents, expect from the kids?"

Right now, there are about 6 million Americans age 85 or older. By 2040, that number will be about 14 million. Depending on how old you are now, the magazine concluded, by that time you will probably have taken care of your parents, and your kids may be caring for you.

What are the rules? What are the expectations? What is right? What is enough?

It is good to know that the survey of 751 men and women 18 and older who have at least one parent or guardian living found that 81 percent said, "We owe our parents the same type of physical, emotional and financial support they have given us." And 63 percent said it was morally unacceptable to not allow a parent in need to move in if there is room.

It looks like we can count on the kids, but the devil is in the details. What do we mean by physical, emotional and financial support? When it comes to this, More found some differences among the races, but particularly between the sexes.

Men, it seems, take a can-do attitude toward the issue of elder care. The women? Not so much. That's because women are more likely to feel sadness and grief as their parents fade. And, practically speaking, they are more likely to handle the intimate tasks while the guys organize finances and handle repairs.

When asked what they might sacrifice to care for an ailing or infirm parent, 60 percent of women and 51 percent of men said they would be willing to "make sacrifices to their day-to-day lifestyles." But what does that even mean?

It is revealing that only 26 percent of men and 20 percent of women were willing to sacrifice retirement savings. Also, only 18 percent of men and 12 percent of women were willing to sacrifice the value of their home. You can see there are, indeed, limits.

Compare the smaller numbers who are willing to sacrifice retirement funds and home value to the significant percentage who are willing to — I don't know, give up golf and nail appointments — and you can see why there have to be some very real conversations.

A finding the editors at More said they didn't expect: If one of your parents has already died, you are less likely to say you will make a financial sacrifice to help your remaining parent. That doesn't mean that you selfishly believe you have already done your bit, the editors concluded. It probably means you now understand what that care costs.

And women are less likely than men to expect their kids to let them move in or to give them money. That is probably because, the editors concluded, she did the heavy lifting when it came to the care of her parents and her husband's parents and she doesn't want to be that burden on her own children.

The good news? Young men are much more hands-on with their own children, and that should translate into more understanding — and more involvement — in the care of the grandparents.

It is good to know more about what everybody in the family is thinking these days, but we shouldn't be reading it in a magazine.

I don't want to be a financial burden to my kids in my last years, and I don't want to be under foot. But if push came to shove, what do I expect from them? And have they thought at all about what kind of role they would feel morally bound to play?

We should be talking to each other.

Susan Reimer's columns appear on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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