Things were perfect. John had just started his married life, his siblings were settled and his parents, after fulfilling all their responsibilities, were finally living a contented life in the suburbs. However, apparently things were not how they seemed; one day out of the blue his parents announced that they were getting divorced. He couldn’t believe them. 30 years of marriage and now they were getting divorced. It was no use talking to them, they had made their decision, and so John had no choice but to cope up with the situation.
John’s situation is not uncommon. In fact, recent research by the Pew Research Centre shows that divorce rate among US adults aged 50 years and above has doubled since the 1990s while divorce is becoming less common for younger adults.
Divorce is challenging for the children as well as their divorcing parents. While divorces can be devastating for young children and teens, they can be equally damaging for adult children. Children of divorce are likely to face issues in their own relationships because their parents' divorce has demonstrated that marriage may not be forever. Moreover, they are likely to be dragged into the drama and expected to pick a side, and they may start spending more time and energy caring for their divorced parents than they do on their own relationship.
A divorce means double trouble when the divorcing couple is elderly. Happily married seniors are each other’s emotional and practical support because their kids have are busy raising their own kids and with their careers; all that goes away with late-life parental divorce. Senior parents are more vulnerable to financial and health issues. It can be particularly challenging if one of them has some serious ailment. In cases of dementia progress/last stages of dementia, for example, they need extra care and attention – even if they have been placed in a nursing home.
Taking care of elderly divorced parents can be quite an uphill task. It requires dedication, effort, and of course time since you have to cater to each of them separately. If you are enduring this tough phase of life, here are some tips that can help you deal with late-life parental divorce.
Since divorce can be extremely stressful for all the parties involved, it is necessary to sort out and process emotions before moving ahead. As adults, you would be expected to play an active role in the aftermath of late-life parental divorce, and if you resent the entire situation, it will hinder your ability to help your parents move ahead with their separate lives.
The impact of late-life parental divorce on adults tends to be minimized. As an adult, you feel that you should be able to cope and you shouldn't feel so emotional about your parents' divorce – making you likely to suffer in silence rather than reaching out for help. Consequently, you are vulnerable to developing depression. Also, since your parents would be going through an emotional trauma themselves, they will talk and share with you, seeking your help and support. Hence, to cope up with this sudden responsibility of being a pseudo-parent to your parents, it is important that you are emotionally stable yourself.
In case you are having a hard time dealing with the stress, you can consult a therapist to help you work through your emotions and manage your circumstances. Advise your parents to go for therapy as well.
Taking care of two parents separately is not an easy task, and hence you should use all the help that you can get. If you have siblings, you can divide and conquer. Call a family meeting and discuss your responsibilities and feelings with your siblings. Try to split the tasks so no one will be overwhelmed, and your parents will also get undivided attention. The author of The Complete Eldercare Planner (Harmony, 2009), Joy Loverde says, “Everyone needs to be there, to open up about any concerns, to start sharing responsibilities. Start talking about it right now; do not wait.”
As soon as the divorce is inked, parents may require assistance on multiple fronts – such as claiming the assets to which they are entitled. This could include social security benefits and pension rights as well as investments and their share of proceeds from selling the family home. After they sell their home, they may also need help in finding a new place. moving, and settling in.
In case one of your parents becomes mentally and physically impaired because of a stroke or other ailment, if they have no health insurance, you will have to bear the financial burden. A study by Genworth Financial found that average cost of a private room in a nursing home hovers around $8,121 per month, while a semi-private room costs around $7,148 per month. Genworth has been leading this survey since 2004, and according to it, the long-term care costs increased by 4.5% from 2016 to 2017– the second highest annual increase since 2004. So plan ahead and get them insured while they're still healthy.
During your family meeting, discuss any financial assets that your parents may have and that can be used to support them if insurance is no longer an option. Apply for Medicaid coverage as it can cover long-term care costs including nursing home admission.
If your parents are still mentally sharp but require some help with day-to-day living, you can explore some less expensive options than a nursing home. For instance, according to Genworth, an assisted living facility costs around $3,750 per month.
Taking care of two elderly divorced parents is a full-time responsibility. However, you need to make sure that you take care of your needs as well. If you have your own family, then it is important that you manage your time appropriately and make time for your children and spouse. Of course, you also need to focus on your career as well. Hence, you should learn to strike a balance between attending to your needs as well as your parents' needs.
It is understandable that everyone is caught up in their own lives and making time is difficult, but your parents crave your attention and time more than anything. Visit them often and talk to them. If you live in different cities, teach your parents to use modern technology so that they can keep in touch with you and their grandchildren via Skype or other video call service. Encourage them to take part in social gatherings. Step out with them: plan a dinner or a casual shopping trip. If their living situation and health permits, consider getting them pets: a friendly cat or small companion dog. Pets known to reduce stress and help in certain medical conditions such as dementia. If they can't have their own pet, ask if the facility has a pet therapy program.
Caring for aging parents, especially those who are alone, should be a top priority for adult children – but not to the point of burnout or neglecting their own family and life. According to WebMD.com, "Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude – from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able – either physically or financially." So get a support system in place for yourself: trusted friends and family you can talk to and who can offer practical or emotional support. Ask for help when you need it, and don't neglect your own needs.
Ashley Rosa is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to write articles related to the latest trends in technology and sometimes on health-tech as well. You can find her at twitter: @ashrosa2
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Business Valuators / CPAs