Life Priorities

The Working Daughter’s Paradox: Nurturing Family, Career and Aging Parents

The Working Daughter’s Paradox: Nurturing Family, Career and Aging Parents

The challenges facing America’s working moms may be familiar ones, but America’s working daughters are facing a less talked about challenge that is just as great. These women must balance their careers with their caregiving responsibilities—only instead of caring for children, they’re caring for their aging parents. But eldercare, and its emotional and financial impact on those involved, is just beginning to garner attention.

A Crisis Where Career and Caregiving Collide

Liz O’Donnell, the author of the book “Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman” and a well-established writer with a voice for the working mother, is also one of these working daughters.

Two years ago, when O’Donnell, the mother of two elementary school-aged children, was promoting her book and working her day job, she was also taking care of her aging parents, who lived more than an hour away. On one particularly hectic day, she took her mother to the doctor, who anxiously asked why O’Donnell was not taking care of her full time.

“It was a really stressful moment,” she says. “I was sitting in his office and, for the first time ever in my career…I thought if I could quit, I would quit my job right now. This is all too much. My parents’ needs are only going to get greater, and I can’t do this. Never in 10 years of being a mother did I have that [feeling].”

O’Donnell, who founded, is far from alone. There are currently more than 40 million unpaid eldercare providers in the U.S., according to Census data.That number is only poised to grow with 10,000 people turning 65 every day.2

The burden often falls to women, though O’Donnell says she has heard from many men who are also dealing with these responsibilities. While caregiving affects both genders, the financial impact is often worse for women. A study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average of $324,044 in compensation due to caregiving. For men, the number is slightly lower, $283,716.3 Either way, it is a staggering sum.

The Impact Is Twofold: Emotional and Financial

Unlike childcare, caring for aging parents means playing in an entirely different emotional field. The arrival of a child is filled with anticipation, joy and hope; caring for them is framed by those emotions. Assisting a parent at the end of his or her life is almost the opposite.

“I never went outside and pretend-played with my best friend next door about taking care of a parent,” O’Donnell says. “It’s not something we ever think about until it hits us.”

There’s a complex set of emotional issues involved when caring for an elderly parent. Caregivers are in a constant state of grief—from dealing with their parent’s memory issues or loss of mobility to grappling with mortality.

The financial impact is also different than caring for a child, which typically happens significantly earlier in a woman’s career. Most women are hit with the parental caregiver role in their mid-40s, when they need to be saving for retirement and paying into government programs like Social Security for their own financial security.

“What’s happening is that so many caregivers are finding that they need to step out of the workplace or scale back at the workplace at such a critical time in their earning years,” O’Donnell says.

Hiring someone to help while you stay at work comes with a potentially sizable cost, and that expense typically falls to the caregiver as well.

Financial Planning for Working Daughters Needs to Start Young

Caregiving requires a level of planning that previous generations did not fully embrace. This means that in the beginning of their careers, young people should be talking with advisors to plan for retirement, and potential derailments from the commonly assumed narrative track: Start working, and work until you’re 65.

“This is not something that we have talked about in a major way,” O’Donnell says. “And it’s not something that many of us want to talk about…and yet it is going to be a major part of your earnings and your career and your longtime retirement planning, so the sooner we can address this with people coming out of school and into the workforce—with financial experts—I think, the better.”

Advisors can help younger generations develop a carefully crafted and comprehensive plan that addresses these kinds of future needs through retirement planning, investment planning and income tax planning. This will allow future working daughters to be more financially secure as they age, as well as help them approach their parents’ more immediate needs.

Advisors can also help address another key component of financial planning for working daughters and their parents: long-term care. It’s best for children and their parents to sit down together with an advisor and develop this kind of plan, which involves a variety of services designed to help maintain their parents’ sense of independence and ease potential financial burdens.

Someone turning 65 today has a 70 percent chance of needing long-term care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.On average, women need care for 3.7 years, and men need care for 2.2 years. Twenty percent of individuals will need care for longer than five years, yet a MetLife survey found that only 10 percent of seniors have a long-term care plan in place.5

Long-term care costs will continue to increase, but benefits such as Medicare and Social Security are limited. An advisor can analyze the costs versus the benefits and help create the best plan for your family.

A National Conversation Begins

Through her work, O’Donnell is helping to bring this conversation to the forefront, and eventually, she hopes to make this issue part of the conversation about working mothers and maternity/family leave. O’Donnell believes there need to be more resources available to working daughters, such as employee-sponsored eldercare support groups, a culture in the workplace that emphasizes flexibility and accountability sharing, and an end to the stigma toward employees dealing with eldercare.

O’Donnell thinks it’s slowly becoming a hot topic.

“I think it might take a while because, again, it’s just loaded with un-pleasantries. Nobody likes to feature that. I think we’re seeing it. I think we’re at the beginning of this really becoming a mainstream conversation,” she says.

The more we talk about it, and the earlier people think about this and begin to plan for it financially, the tighter the grasp on their own future—and the future of the parents they love.

[BIO] Liz O’Donnell, a longtime marketing executive, is the author of “Mogul, Mom, & MaidThe Balancing Act of the Modern Woman” and runs the website Working Daughter. Liz is a frequent speaker and consultant to women seeking to thrive and the organizations wanting to mobilize them. 

To learn more ways to financially prepare for your caregiving responsibilities, speak with a SunTrust advisor near you.

“Unpaid Eldercare In The United States,” Sept. 23, 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics

“Baby Boomers slowly growing more comfortable with retirement,” Feb. 18, 2015, Fortune

 3 “The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers,” 2011, MetLife

“How Much Care Will You Need?” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

 5 “The Market for Long-Term Care Insurance,” National Bureau of Economic Research

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