‘I told her that I was going to make an appointment for her to speak to a Medicaid specialist, and you would think she’d watched me kick a puppy down the stairs’
By QUENTIN FOTTRELL | MarketWatch
My mom is a very nice lady who spent most of her adult life chasing the next person who would take care of her, be they husband or family member. Subsequently, she has done a really bad job of planning for retirement. Out of her MANY marriages, I am her only child, and I knew that she would eventually knock on my door with the assumption that I would be her last stop.
‘Having Mom in the house is kind of like having a 20-year-old child.’
My husband and I took her in about three years ago. Right now, it’s a mutually beneficial situation: She lives with us for free in exchange for watching our two youngest kids during the day, and we get free child care out of the situation, which would otherwise be an absolutely massive expense in our area.
That said, my emotionally needy mother lives with me, her health isn’t the best, and we want to downsize in four to five years.
We’ve danced around the fact that she probably won’t live with us forever. For a lot of reasons, we can’t be her nursing home if she winds up needing much more than we already provide. Given her medical history and never-ending cycle of specialist appointments, I suspect she will.
Recently, I told her that I was going to set up an appointment for her to speak to a Medicaid specialist, and you would think she’d watched me kick a puppy down the stairs.
‘I’m not sure how much longer I can take parenting her before I snap.’
Having Mom in the house is kind of like having a 20-year-old child. She’s mostly helpful and can obviously be trusted, but she still requires parenting.
How do I help my mother understand that I can’t and won’t sacrifice the well-being of my family or my own retirement on the altar of her poor planning and unwillingness to even try to take care of herself? I’m not sure how much longer I can take parenting her before I snap.
A 39-year-old Stressed-Out Daughter and De Facto Parent in Virginia
Dear Stressed Out,
I’m still stuck on those capital letters. I’m wondering just how many times your mother has been married, but that’s really none of my business. I have received many letters from parents complaining about their entitled children, usually adult children who are either Generation X or millennials. (I’m happy to debunk the tired old trope that all millennials are entitled.) Rarely, however, have I received a letter about parents who are entitled. I am not including those parents who stole their children’s identities and racked up tens of thousands of credit-card bills; obviously, the entitlement in those cases speaks for itself.
You’re putting a plan together for your mother, and it’s clearly not to her liking. You have no control over that. I’m curious if you would feel differently if she were an easier person to get along with and/or you did not have such a fractured relationship. It sounds like you have built a good life, one that may have been in spite of rather than due to your mother’s example and your own upbringing. This appears to be a relationship with a lot of history, and more than its share of resentments. I make no judgment, as I don’t know any of the details of your childhood. You know where your boundaries are and I will operate on that principle.
You can start by being honest and direct. Outline your plans as a family, and your budget. Thank her for being a grandmother to your kids and for babysitting while you and your husband were at work. Tell your mother what you are able and unable to do for her, and where you draw the line. Then give her the information she needs to make her own decision. From what you say, if she were to live independently, she would qualify for Medicaid. Assuming she has no long-term care insurance, Medicaid is likely her best option. You didn’t create this situation and you can’t control what your mother decides to do. You can’t fix her life for her, but you can show her the way.
There is a long-term elder-care crisis in America, and your mother is one of millions of people who must navigate this thorny issue. She’s not alone and there is plenty of help out there. Those eligible for Medicaid are older adults or people with a disability who meet certain requirements, such as having income and assets below certain levels. You can read more here. Medicaid, for those who qualify, pays for more than half of long-term care expenses. Nearly 20% of Medicaid expenses currently go to the elderly, primarily for long-term care.
As Max Richtman, the president and chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a nonprofit that promotes the financial security, health and well-being of older Americans, recently wrote on MarketWatch: “Most seniors simply don’t have the average $100,000 a year for a nursing home, $45,000 for assisted living, or $33,000 for in-home care.” He added, “Many middle-class seniors are forced to impoverish themselves by exhausting their hard-earned savings simply to qualify for Medicaid.”
You are putting together a strategic plan for your children’s education and your retirement. I respect that. There are organizations that could help you and your mother: the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative, the American Council on Aging and the Family Caregiver Alliance. You don’t want to cloud the issue with emotions or ill-chosen words that you will regret later. It’s smart to plan four to five years ahead. It’s best to have this conversation with your mother when you are not in the midst of a crisis and you both have clear heads.
You mother is providing day care and you are giving her a place to live. It’s an equal exchange and, while it is transactional at least from your end, it’s also practical. It helps both of you. In an ideal world with a healthy, happy relationship, you would allow your parent to live with you and take care of her as she did for you as a child. But I don’t know what your childhood was like and I don’t know either of you, so I am taking your letter at face value and reading between the lines that this is not a healthy relationship for you. You do have agency and the right to live you life as you want to live it. You have the right to set boundaries and to be free.
In therapy circles, they call this process “detach with love.” With that in mind, I would leave all references to puppies and stairwells out of it.
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