Should You Quit Your Job to Care for Your Elderly Parent?


As our parents age and need more assistance, most adult children do what they can to help. For many of you, the first step is a weekly stop to visit your elders, assess their situation and perhaps help with some chores, always reminding them to call you in any emergency.

Often, this weekly stop increases until it becomes a routine part of each day. You look into community services and in-home care for assistance. You take into consideration adult day care and assisted living. However, your parents tell you that they want you to care for them. They don't want "strangers." You want to please them, and also want to feel that assurance that you are doing your best for them.

So, you consider giving up your current employment. While it won't be easy, you feel that the family can get by without your paycheck for a time.

Following your heart can seem financially wise, too

You already know what may be gained by giving up employment and becoming the sole caregiver for your parents. You are the hands-on person and know their care intimately. You know how they are doing day and night and you hope they will appreciate your help. They raised you and you want to give back.

You also could save the money that would be spent for in-home care or adult day care, plus you likely put off, if not eliminate, the need for nursing home care. Therefore, quitting a job and staying home to care for your aging parents could save them significant money.

What do you lose if you quit your job to provide care for your parents?

While you may consider a month-to-month deficit in your income something that can be tolerated for the time being, it's easy to forget or ignore your own financial future. Yes, stepping in to help your aging parents may feel good and help them save money. If they have assets and don't outlive their money, you may recoup some of the financial resources you gave up by inheriting some of their estate when they die. But don't count on that.

More often, you'll find that even though you gave up the benefits of employment, your parents will still, eventually, need facility care. Their financial resources will dwindle quickly at that time unless they have a very good long-term care policy or are quite wealthy. Therefore, any idea that you will financially recover after "it's all over" may be misplaced thinking. The best of both worlds scenario that your parents can benefit from your loving care and that you will get paid back financially in the end isn't all that likely.

Obviously, the person who quits a job to care for one or more elders is giving up a paycheck. However, that person is giving up much more.

  1. Social Security: Even though, as a family caregiver, you will work very hard – often much harder than you would work at a paying job – your work hours won't show up on your Social Security record. Depending on the number of years you are officially unemployed, you not only lose the take-home wages, but you could have lost hundreds of dollars a month in Social Security benefits when you reach retirement age.
  2. Retirement plans: You miss out on an employer's retirement plan or a 401K match. If you aren't employed, you won't have the stress of watching your 401K fluctuate in value because you won't even have one. You'll have no retirement package unless you had a healthy retirement plan before you quit your job.
  3. Job skills: Your job skills may become out of date while you care for your elders, as others in your field move ahead.
  4. Re-entering the workforce: If you are unemployed it's harder to get a new job than if you are currently employed. In today's tight job market, re-entering the workforce may not be easy.
  5. Your age: You are aging as you are caregiving. Age discrimination when hiring is illegal, but employers can find other ostensible reasons for not hiring you – such as out-of-date skills.
  6. Caregiver isolation: Not everyone is cut out to be a full-time caregiver. You may find that while you are glad not to be juggling a job and your caregiving responsibilities, you miss the work atmosphere. You miss your paycheck. You miss the social interaction you had as an employed person.

As with most things we do, there's no right answer for everyone. For some people, quitting their job to stay home with loved ones is the right thing to do. For others, it's not wise. As a nation, we need more resources for eldercare and better support from employers so that quitting a paying job doesn't become an either/or decision. Until we have that, adult children who want to care for their aging parents will likely have some tough choices to make.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

Minding Our Elders

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If I had to answer this question with a a yes or a no, I'd answer NO. Not that I don't love my mother but it is not good to give up your life for another person when giving up your life jeopardizes your financial future. This situation works for my mother because she is saving about $4000 a month AT LEAST not having to be in a skilled care facility. But for me at 52 yrs of age quitting my job at 48 to move cross county to "help" (The intitial game plan was that I would look for work here and she would get help while I was at work -- Thank you economy and age for putting the kibosh on that). What is that saying they have about how to make God laugh just tell him your plans? Now i"m a caregiver who is financially dependent in all areas for the person I'm caring for and I've been stripped of my independence and a life. I love my mother to pieces but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't.
I quit my job, burned out caregiving. I'm very sorry I did. My parents made choices, while I moved to live closer. I should have respected their decisions, but respected my career, my job, my husband. It is impossible finding a new job at age 50+ and I would caution anyone for making this choice.
I would answer simply no, unless you are about to retire and/or are financially independent. My parents moved close to us about 12 years ago so I could help with their care. I was working full-time and it was no problem at all the first couple of years. We had always been close, but it was wonderful to go on short drives every week-end, etc. Soon after I was at their house every night, cooking, cleaning, doing the bills etc. Mom became very ill and the time at their house was more than I spent at my own home with my husband ( for 5 years) Neither would consider assisted living or having a "stranger" help. I have many health issues too. It was sad when Mom passed away, but I was physically and emotionally spent and had to take early retirement. My marriage also suffered. Week-end evenings out with friends dwindled to none. My husband and I have already made arrangements so our children do not even have to consider taking on this responsibility. And, it has nothing to do with love or commitment, for me it was more than I could handle physically and emotionally. The obvious of course is that it started out smooth, but I also continued to age and had more health issues, some as a direct result of taking care of my parents. There definitely needs to be more community support, but parents also need to be flexible. It appears that most aging parents are unwilling to budge when it come to what they want, and do not seem to consider their children also have a life to live. In my situation. I always found it interesting that both my parents had no problem placing their parents in nursing homes, but they would not even consider assistant living.

My father is still living and doing barely ok physically and maybe a little bit better mentally, but refuses to understand how all the neighbors worry about him being alone, and I feel guilty that the neighbors worry about him, but I am not going to spend every waking hour at his house. I think just about all caregivers carry a huge amount of guilt, mostly unfounded.