Patrice is a smart, hardworking single mom with limited involvement from the father of her two elementary-school-aged kids. She works full time as support staff at a logistics firm, while she runs a tight ship she consistently feels like she has her hands full. Then suddenly, her 67-year-old mom, who lives two hours away, experienced a quick downturn in her health — her diabetes was poorly managed, her arthritis had already meant she had trouble running errands on her own. Patrice knew she had to keep a close eye on her mom.
Over the holidays, Patrice spent a few days with her mom — also a single mother — and had to face the facts. Walking was clearly very painful, and Patrice’s mother asked — shyly — if Patrice could help her with a long list of errands and household tasks that she was unable to do herself. Patrice felt obligated to help her mom in whatever way she could.
“I tried to visit my mom at least once per week, but I finally had to face the fact that she needed more care,” Patrice said. “Even if we could afford a nursing home, my mom is a stubborn broad — there is no way she would leave the house she’s lived in for 30 years.” Patrice knew her mom wanted to age at home and maintain her independence but needed more hands-on care, she started thinking about whether or not she could afford it with her mom before making a decision.
Between caring for her kids, working fulltime, and trying to maintain a healthy life of her own, Patrice was stressed and burned out. “I love my mom and not only feel obliged to help her — I want to. But I also have to take care of my kids and myself,” she told me. She’d try to talk to her mom about moving to a nursing home, or find other care, but they would bicker about it, which only caused more stress. It became clear Patrice’s mom wanted to stay in the comfort of her home and receive the help she needed.
Finally, a few weeks ago, the situation came to a head. Patrice received a call at work that her mom’s pipes had burst in the cold, and she was overwhelmed trying to find a plumber. That same day, the school called to tell her to pick up her 8-year-old, who had a fever and headache.
“I just couldn’t do it all,” Patrice said.
Patrice researched her options, and hired a personal home care provider, using the site Care.com. The home care provider, Annie, comes four times each week to visit her mom. During these visits, she helps her mom with shopping, doctor’s appointments. meal preparation, they go shopping, run errands, and does basic home cleaning, as well as helps her bathe.
“This has been the best decision that I have made — I only wish I hired someone through Care.com sooner,” Patrice says. She goes on to say that simply knowing that Annie is on-call frees not only her time, but her headspace and stress level, which Patrice says she can now use to build her career and family. “I actually have more energy to help my mom now,” Patrice says. “We have a much smoother relationship because our time is now focused on enjoying each other, and not arguing about how to take care of my mom. Ironically, my mom is now more open to asking me for help when she needs it for bigger issues — because she feels more supported and cared for on a daily basis.”
Have you found yourself in this situation? Take a deep breath, here is what you can do to find senior care for your loved one.
- Tips for managing your aging parents care
- What if your parents are stubborn or otherwise difficult?
- Checklist: Adult child caring for an aging parent
- How to find senior home care
- How to pay for senior home care
- How to manage the guilt and stress of caring for your aging parent
Tips for managing your aging parents care:
Get on the same page as the other loved ones in the person’s life.
Whether it is your parent’s romantic partner, your siblings, your parent’s siblings or others who care most about your mom or dad, involve them in the process as much as makes sense. This takes the burden off of you both logistically and emotionally. Create a team on which you can rely for physical help, as well as to turn to when things get stressful or emotional.
Caretaking creates friction in families — what to do when siblings don't help
Be proactive in seeking outside support to work through these differences. This might be a neutral, respected family friend, clergy person, or professional who specializes in senior care, who is familiar with this brand of family conflict.
Have an open conversation with your brother, sister or your parent's spouse or significant other about the tasks that need to be done, the realities of the finances, as well as the limits of what you are willing to take on.
Be flexible about the tasks that each person is willing to contribute. For example, one child may feel comfortable with the hands-on caregiving, while another may be OK with running errands and assisting with appointments, while another may prefer to manage estate and financial matters. Accept that these are all important and valuable contributions.
If siblings other family members are not as helpful as you’d hope they would be, find ways to let that anger go. Control what you can, which may be only the only productive reaction.
Never sacrifice your own financial stability for your parent.
The best gift you can give your children is financial security — both now and in your own later years. It helps no one to compromise your career, savings, investments or other assets to care for a loved one.
Boundaries in all parts of your life are critical to caregiving — including understanding that each adult is responsible for their own financial wellbeing. In other words: If your parent does not have assets to afford the level of care that you would like to see them have, and you are not able to provide that kind of care without compromising your own financial future, then you must accept that.
Involve your children in caring for their grandparents.
It can be easy to feel like you are compromising your kids’ care for the sake of your parent. This can be true, but it doesn’t always have to be. Let your children see you caring for their grandparent. Let that be an example to teach them about family, serving those who need it, being loving and caring. Even very young children can help their elders, through spending time with them, and household chores. Older children can sit with the older relative, run errands, and teenagers can drive them to appointments.
Seek out emotional support for yourself as caregiver.
Group therapy with others in similar situations can be life-saving. If you have close friends nearby, make regular dates with them- even if you don’t discuss your family situation. Girls nights are therapy!
Take care of your own physical and mental health first. You cannot be of service to others when your own cup is empty.
What if your parents are stubborn or otherwise difficult?
If your parent is refusing help — whether from you, or professional care from a home aide or a live-in facility, try these approaches.
- Don't expect immediate results. If the first conversation about assisted living is rejected, plan to revisit the topic over several weeks or months, multiple times.
- Recruit other activists. Maybe you are not the person to get through to your aging mom or dad. Another loved one, family friend, their physician, clergy leader or a professional like a home aide representative may be better at explaining the benefits of help.
- Take a small first step. For example, even if you believe that full-time residential care is in order, a stubborn parent may be receptive to help in their own home several times per week. Once they see the benefits of accepting some care, they may be open to accepting more.
- Be honest about how the situation affects you. Share how stressful, expensive and time consuming helping your parent is. Show that is is affecting your relationships, or financial security. Say: “I love you and worry about you so much, as does the rest of the family. Accepting help is really helping all of us.”
- Know you are not alone. Caring for an aging loved one ranks as one of the most stressful, and common life experiences. Manage your own guilt by reaching out to others in similar situations, and speaking honestly about your own struggles with trusted friends and, if needed, a therapist. (Learn more about online therapy with licensed counselors — typically much more affordable than in-person, and very convenient with text, phone and video sessions.)
Sign up with Care.com and get 20% off Premium Membership; start searching for affordable senior care today, join a support group through Care.com community and manage care in-platform.
Checklist: Adult child caring for an aging parent
When taking on the care of an aging parent — no matter how vibrant or disabled your mother or father is — there are many tasks that you must consider.
- Estate planning — including will, living trust, power of attorney and beneficiary designations
- Long-term care insurance (if any)
- Medicare, medicaid and any supplemental health and prescription insurance coverage
- Finances: Retirement, brokerage, checking, savings accounts, life insurance, real estate, business holdings and any other assets.
- Personal possessions. As you manage your parent's later years, there will likely be questions about what will happen to their possessions, whether those of value, or heirlooms, including furniture and household furnishings, estate jewelry and watches.
A family or elder care attorney can help you manage these.
How to find senior home care
There are two ways to hire a home care aide or care provider:
One is through an agency, the other is to hire directly.
Pros of hiring an in-home senior care placement agency
- They do the work. The agency will screen candidates, do the paperwork, some basic training and cast a wide net to find qualified candidates.
- If one hire falls through, or cannot make their shift, the agency will have backups.
Cons of hiring through an in-home senior care placement agency
- More expensive
- Can feel impersonal, since they select a handful of candidates for you to consider.
- Can be inconsistent, as agencies sometimes rotate in aides, which can make it hard to maintain the quality of care and bond with the caregiver.
- Not all rural areas are served by agencies.
The other option is to hire in-home senior care directly. Some people find home care aides and providers through recommendations from friends. A popular way to search for help is using Care.com, the largest online marketplace for finding and managing care. Care.com has thousands of caregiver profiles in the United States, and around the world. Beyond its size, Care.com has an A- rating from the Better Business Bureau (which is important to me), and was founded by an awesome female CEO (also important to me!).
Caregiver profiles include photos, reviews from past clients, education level, services offered and some limited verifications – you also have the option to request a background check on providers anytime as a Care.com Premium member. If you sign up for Care.com, you’ll get 20% off Premium Membership.
Pros of directly hiring a private in-home senior care help
- Less expensive.
- You are in control by taking a third-party out of the equation
- Ability to interview candidates directly, to see if there is a personal connection or preference
Cons of directly hiring a private in-home senior care help
- Some people find it to be more work to find, vet and hire a care worker
- No real recourse if someone doesn’t show up for work.
This is how Care.com works to find senior care:
- Go to Care.com
- Create an account, and fill in your needs.
- Browse caregivers based on your location, needs, and budget.
- Reach out to potential candidates within Care.com to screen for the right fit.
- Set up appointments to meet with and interview caregivers. Here are some tips on how to interview a senior caregiver.
- Screen finalists via the background check services for a fee (some caregivers pay for this service themselves, and can share their certified criminal records and DMV histories at no additional cost you).
- Call candidates’ references.
- Make an offer, and hire!
- You can pay within the Care.com website, which can be very helpful for tax records, sharing information with relatives and keeping track of the relationship.
How to pay for senior home care
On Care.com, senior home care fees start at around $12 per hour and depend on your location, the person’s level of experience and education. The great thing about Care.com is you can find and manage your care options in-platform.
For example, if you hired senior care home aide on Care.com, you have the option to also pay the home aide directly on Care.com, add notes for the care plan, message them in-platform and join discussion groups with other families, including those who live nearby and can offer local advice on caregivers and services.
Depending on your income, there may be local services that can offer some of these services, and sometimes Medicaid covers the cost. Here is a state-by-state guide to Medicaid home care benefits.
Most states have non-Medicaid programs to help seniors living at home.
Reach out to specialized organizations, such as your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, your parent’s medical providers or local social services agencies to see about area resources.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has services for seniors, including help paying for and providing in-home care.
Here is a list of VA services for the elderly.
Other options for financing in-home senior care include:
- Reverse mortgage
- Life insurance conversions
How to manage the guilt and stress of caring for your aging parent
Caring for an unwell loved one is a very stressful and emotionally complex time for anyone. You’ll be full of a lot of seemingly contradicting emotions throughout the process: love, guilt, anger, and confusion. The key is to accept all of your feelings as normal, human, and complicated. Just remember breathe.
This post on Psychology Today gives a great script for children caring for their aging parents, who become so overwhelmed by the stress, guilt and dismay of being responsible for a toxic parents, they obsess over their wish the parent would die. This feeling is 100% normal, and OK.
The therapist in the post advises you tell your parent:
“You're my mother and I'm always going to love you, for as long as you live and beyond, but if you continue to act as negatively as you are, I'm not going to like you. And if I don't like you, I'm going to visit you less often and shorten the amount of time I spend with you at each visit.
What I will not do is let myself become so angry and so dislike you that I stop visiting all together. Before I do that I will shorten contact to minutes per week and check in more with the staff about you than visit with you.
I am asking for your help in making the best of the situation — being respectful and kindly toward others and showing the dignity that I know you are capable of.”
To manage the emotional part of this process, check out these books and resource links:
A support group, and individual or couple's therapy (because elder care often takes a toll on your relationships, including marriage). BetterHelp is the largest online counseling site, with unlimited support starting at $49 per month for text, video, email and phone therapy.
This TEDx talk on caring for aging parents is poignant:
What this single mom learned from caring for her dying parents
This is a guest post by single mom Cassi Upshaw, who lives in Gulf Shores, Ala., with her son.
I cared for my mom for roughly seven years. She was on disability, from a kidney disease that was incurable. Over the years, it quickly went from her helping care for my son and helping me out as a single mom, to me caring for her, to my son even helping pick up the slack.
The biggest challenges were co-parenting while our roles were being reversed and I was more the parent, and she was more the child. Having to take her keys from her and set down ground rules was a very difficult task, as the illness progressed. I also had the challenge of being recently single, wanting to have a dating life, but moving back in with her because she had a larger house and financially it just made sense. The lines were blurred for a while about who was helping who. My desire to have my own life, but not to abandon her either, was a really hard thing to balance. When it came to hooking her up to machines nightly, after I'd worked a full day, gotten home and cooked dinner and did homework with my son, there was little time left for myself, much less any social activities. As selfish as that sounds, a social life was something that I needed then more than ever.
For the last 10 months of my mom's life, my dad stepped in and helped out, moving her into his home. While they were still married and had a perfectly fine relationship, they lived separately most of my adult life, and my mom always followed my son and me wherever we moved.
To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days
The last few months of her life were the hardest. Not being there daily, but knowing I had to be here for my son was a difficult thing to balance. To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days, as she quickly progressed into the latter stages of life. Ultimately I know I made the right decision, I took care of her for as long as I possibly could, I asked for, and accepted help when it was available. At the end of the day, my responsibility was to take care of my son, and my dad was capable of taking care of my mother.
After her passing, my dad didn't get sick, but he definitely began to show his age. For nearly the next year and a half, he became my person. My person to grieve with, complain with, and laugh with. He visited me at least one week every two months — sometimes one week every month. Our relationship had never been closer. For once, he was truly alone, and I tried to suffice as a companion in his life. He went through a rebellious stage, where he began drinking again and gambling, kind of like a young college kid trying to find his way through the ins and outs of the world. Having recently lost my mother, rather than ridicule him, I really found humor in it. Seeing him ultimately have fun, seeing him laugh and have a good time, seeing him hit on the pretty 30-somethings at the casino was hilarious, and they knew that 69-year-old man was harmless. In someways, he was still his ornery self, getting stuck in his old ways, and hypocritical thoughts, but in many other ways, he was a lively spirit, as though he had been born again.
If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would miss his crotchety old ass.
As the weeks went on, he made comments about not feeling well, looking back on it, I overlooked all the signs, and ultimately, I'm really glad I did. Rather than worrying every single day about his well-being, I learned to appreciate him for what he was that day. If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would look back on that, and miss his crotchety old ass… and if he was light on his feet, carefree, and almost irresponsible in a sense, I ate it up. I made him feel like there was no reason to think anything less. He opened up to me about not ever wanting another woman to marry, but having one to snuggle up to you every now and then wouldn't be so bad.
The facade that I had grown up thinking he was so strong always, all disappeared. He became real to me. He became relatable. The last time he called was in the wee hours of the morning; he was at the casino, had entered some crazy drawing and was playing Texas hold'em. He left me a message, telling me that he had met up with some girls, the same ones he had spent the previous weekend getting to know and that he was having a great time. He went to bed at night and never woke up.
Alone might be where I'm at, but I can always depend on myself, and I won't ever let me down.
The challenges I now face are not having someone to call when I have a question about parenting. No longer feeling like I have someone on my side, no matter what might happen. The harsh reality of being ultimately alone, some days, it's overwhelming. But I've learned that I'm far stronger than I ever thought I could be. I've learned, that I lived the first 29 years of my life scared, I was scared of everything. I constantly called to check on my parents, wondering if they were OK every minute of every day. I've double, triple, quadruple locked my doors, always afraid of what might happen. But when my parents died, when they both finally left me, and I learned what it was to be ultimately alone. I found the strength inside myself. I realized, alone might be where I'm at, but I know I can always depend on myself, and I won't ever let me down.
I realized, despite being scared for 29 years, everyone still dies. My dad always used to say, “no one gets out of here alive.” There's really no truer statement… So rather than being scared, now I'm living. At 30 years old, I'm living. I'm living my life the best that I can every single day. I'm being the best mom, the best employee, the best woman, the best everything I can. I realized, rather than blaming circumstances or people influencing your life for the negative outcome, dismiss it, and push forward. Channel that energy into something positive.
We no longer have problems, but challenges.
We no longer have problems, but challenges, and it takes as much energy to bitch about one as it does to find a solution and pursue it. So while my challenges maybe or may not be what you're currently experiencing, we will all eventually come to the same conclusion. We will be here, and our parents won't. So find your strength now. Love them for where they are in their life, wherever that might be at the moment. And learn to push forward, for your parents may have left you, but there is still a little someone looking up, depending on you to be the parent to them.
Who will take care of you as a single woman when you get old?
After you’ve had a chance to consider your parent’s needs, what about your own?
Things are real-life when you are a single woman. Nevermind if you're a single mom.
You could have a really great co-parent in your kids’ dad, remarry, make a ton of money with a successful business or career, inherit a bunch of dough and be all set when you retire — young enough to enjoy it.
That is my plan, and I do hope that is my reality (though not so sure about the marriage part — that is for another post. And I’m 99.9 percent certain there is no windfall in my future …).
In fact, making sure that women are financially solvent through every stage of life is critical if we will ever have gender equality — which is the underlying reason why I get up in the morning and write on this blog!
Unfortunately, we have so far to go when it comes to the wage gap, and the saving and investing gap.
Why single moms need long-term care insurance
Single moms, in fact, fare the worst when it comes to these metrics.
Not only do we have a disproportionate burden of caring for children, it is harder to build a career when you have children to care for solo, and so we earn less.
It is harder to build a career when you are focused on kids, and it is, of course, harder to save and invest for our own futures when you have those kids.
Single moms are also very likely to care for older parents and disabled loved ones — we are members of the sandwich generation, but on steroids!
One recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of working caregivers found that nearly half arrive at work late or leave early to care for their loved one, 15 percent take a leave of absence or reduced hours, while others turn down promotions or leave work entirely.
If you'd like to know if your older relative qualifies for long-term care insurance, contact LTC Consumer for a quick quote.
There are yet other forces at play — like single mom guilt. An Allianz survey a few years ago found that the majority of Americans were making the big mistake of ransoming their retirements by over-saving for their children’s college.
Single moms commit this no-no far more than other families, Allianz found.
I suggest the reason is that we feel so guilty for the fact our families are not traditional that somehow we “owe” it to our kids to help them get through school without the burden of debt.
But guess what? That means that we are now a burden on our kids. FACT.
This guilt — paired with actual financial hardships of single motherhood — means that by our later years, there isn’t much in the bank.
I like to say there are loans for college, but there are no loans for retirement. Heck, there are loans for everything — Disney, school clothes, soccer teams, health insurance can all go on a credit card. But not retirement!
As a result, we become a burden on our children. We may already be caring for our elderly parents, and whether or not you want to admit it, that is a burden you wish you did not have. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that it costs on average $92,376 per year for long-term care in a nursing home.
Thankfully, in addition to prioritizing earning, saving and investing, there is something else important that single women can do to be independent and afford quality life in the event that we can’t care for ourselves: long-term care insurance.
You can buy long-term life insurance for yourself, and you can also buy it for a loved one.
For all the reasons women need long-term-care insurance more than men, women also need life insurance more than men. Thankfully, there are many affordable options for life insurance you can get quickly, online.
What is long-term care insurance?
Long-term care insurance covers aid and treatment options in the event that you need care for the long-term.
Technically, this usually means one of two things:
- You need help with two out of six daily living activities of living (like bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and continence) or,
- You have a severe cognitive impairment, like dementia.
On average, the cost of a nursing home is $92,376 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Home care is about half that — while nursing care can exceed $140,000 in some states.
9 services covered by long-term care insurance:
Long-term care insurance covers care that is not usually covered by health insurance, including Medicare.
It can include many types of care, some in your home, and some in a facility, including assisted living and nursing homes.
Some of these services might be provided by highly skilled therapists and doctors, while others by home care assistants.
- Home health care
- Respite care
- Hospice care
- Personal care in your home
- Assisted living facilities
- Adult day care centers
- Nursing homes
- Memory care facilities
In some cases, family members can be reimbursed as paid care providers
This is care that typically falls outside of your typical health insurance coverage, including Medicare, which only covers a very short nursing home stay.
For those living below the poverty level, Medicaid can pay for some of these services — but only if you are impoverished.
How does long-term care insurance work?
To help cover potential long-term care expenses, some people choose to buy long-term care insurance. You can buy long-term care insurance for yourself, or buy it for others.
Like other forms of insurance, long-term care insurance allows you to pay a set premium every month or year that helps protect you against an expensive extended healthcare needs.
To buy long-term care insurance, find a third-party broker that can help you shop different plans to find the right policy for you and your family.
LTC Consumer is a great place to start. Once you plug in your name and contact information, a licensed advisor will contact you at a time convenient for you, and educate you about the process and give you several quotes from top-rated companies.
Because LTC Consumer works with many insurers, they have access to many quotes and can offer unique discounts in some cases.
Who should buy long-term care insurance?
According to the American Association for Long-Term Insurance, the best age to buy long-term care insurance is mid-50s.
According to the trade association:
“You can lock in your good health, and today there are policies that allow you to buy some coverage now and add to it in future years.”
About 70 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will likely need some type of long-term care before they die, according to federal estimates — and women are far more likely to need this care than men since we live longer.
The average length of needing care is 1.5 years for men and 2.5 years for women.
57% of all women age 65+ will require long-term care services and 18% of women will require them for 5+ years!
For those unlucky 57% of women that need care the average length of care jumps to 4.4 years.
If you are low-income and believe you can qualify for Medicaid, long-term care insurance may not be for you.
Likewise, if you are high income or have a lot of assets you can liquidate to pay for care, this expense may not be worth it.
How much does long-term insurance cost?
Yearly premiums for long-term care insurance average $2,700, according to AARP— double that of a man of the same age, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
Women’s premiums are higher because women live longer, in general, and are more likely to require long-term care.
Similar to life insurance, your health plays a role in how much your long-term care insurance policy will cost.
Current health, and your health history play a big role — including whether you smoke, are a healthy weight, have an active lifestyle, and if you have a history of illness. The older you are when you apply usually means the higher the premium.
LTC Consumer offers this example from one of the largest LTC insurance companies in the United States.
These premiums are for a basic plan that would pay out $3,000\month and $100,000 of total benefits. Both the monthly benefits and total benefits grow at 3% compound each year to keep up with the inflation of the cost of care.
For a single woman age 50 = $1,677 per year
For a single woman age 60 = $2,195 per year
How do I get a long-term insurance quote?
Needless to say, these costs vary wildly by individual, location and your specific needs. LTC Consumer has great, licensed advisors who will help you understand this often confusing process and help you find the best policy for the best price. Plug in your info, and they will reach out to find a time that is best for you to answer your questions and get a quote.
LTC Consumer’s parent company, MasterCare America, Inc, has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, which is important to me, and their site is full of positive, glowing reviews talking about the personal, honest service — which goes a long way with me.
FAQ about LTC insurance
Q: Is it true that “you pay for the insurance with your money but buy it with your health”
A: Many people wait too long to look into the coverage until they already have a chronic condition that prevents them from ever getting a policy. It doesn’t matter if you are Bill Gates — if he isn’t healthy enough to qualify he won’t be offered a policy.
Q: I am worried about outliving my savings, and that all my investments and assets will be taken away to pay for healthcare costs. Should I be?
A: We are living longer than ever— but more often with chronic illness, compared to years past when people passed away before they could get chronically ill.
Q: Does long-term care insurance only covers nursing home care? I prefer care at home.
The good news is that all policies sold today cover home care provided by a licensed home care provider. You can get skilled nursing care at home if you have the money to pay for it. At-home 24/7 skilled nurse care can cost $15,000 per month and is preferred by most people and most families. The good news is that all long-term care insurance covers at home skilled nurse care.
Care.com has an A- rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.