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.

The Costs of Caring For Parents

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?

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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.