Thursday, March 13, 2008

Parenting Our Parents

Today’s blog deals with a sad topic, but one we all must deal with sooner or later -- aging parents.

It’s amazing how time flies.  As children, we’re dependent upon our parents for virtually everything in life.  The next thing you know, we’re all grown up, giving our parents advice, telling them what to do and trying to organize their lives.  The amazing thing is that they actually listen and sometimes even comply.

I was always very proud of having the youngest parents around.  My parents got married and had me when they were barely 18.   It was wonderful growing up with young parents, and I feel blessed to have them still relatively young next to my children and I.  However, most of my friends are not as fortunate.  Their parents tend to be much older, and the years take their toll.  As a result, I get to watch how they struggle to take care of their parents while balancing their own lives. 

A friend’s grandfather -- who is very wealthy -- decided to open a CD without saying a word to anyone.  He transferred all his money into a high-yield CD with ridiculous penalties for early withdrawal.  When the grandmother came upon a paper with a maturity date of 2034, she immediately contacted her son-in-law.  After a few calls to the bank, he confirmed that grandpa had indeed locked away all his money for the next 28 years. 

The question is – why did he do it?  His daughter is in her ‘60s and his only grandson is in his ‘40s. Clearly they could use the money when grandpa finally passes away.  The answer had to do with the misguided intentions of grandpa.  At 92, he knows he will not live forever, but he believes his children will.  So it seemed like a good long-term decision to put the money away until they “really need it.”

Please talk to your parents and get their finances straight while they are alive.  If necessary, bring in a CPA or financial planner to help with the process.  Above all, make sure they have a power of attorney in place for their finances and for their medical wishes.  Making these kinds of decisions before they are forced upon you will save all kinds of heartache and legal problems when you least need them.

Through it all, the hardest part is learning to care for those who cared for us as children.  Even when we grow up and have children of our own, we still consider ourselves children while our parents are alive.  It is only after they have left us that we become real adults and assume the mantle of “elder generation.”

For the past year, a very dear friend of mine has been struggling to take care of her sick father.  Even with the help of three sisters it has been no easy task.  Recently she asked me a poignant question for which I had no answer: How come one parent can take care of four kids, but four kids are unable to take care of one parent?

I’ll be thinking about that one for a long time to come.

All the best,

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