Seniors Giving Money To Adult Children: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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For years, I’ve been telling my kids they better take care of me in my old age.

“Mommy, can we go to McDonald’s?” one of them might ask.

“Do you promise to take care of me in my old age?” I respond.

Whenever I say this, my oldest gives me what I have dubbed the “nursing home” look. She knows it’s what many parents fear – that our children will ship us off to a poorly run and run-down nursing home.

To prevent this, I am funding my retirement account, saving religiously, and I plan to pay off my mortgage before I retire. But you never know. I need a Plan B if my retirement portfolio tanks or I go through all my savings because of some debilitating illness.

I may qualify for some federal or social program if I become destitute, but still, my Plan B is my three kids. Hey, it’s why I had three kids. I mean it’s not like they do much cleaning or bring in money to help pay bills.

OK, I’m kidding. For my husband and me, our kids are a joy and not just our old-age financial plan. However, my pastor recently suggested that adult children should set aside money in their budgets to take care of their elderly parents.

That’s a bold proclamation considering the economic mudslide we are in. These days many people are turning to their elderly parents for financial help. I often get e-mails from seniors across the country in retirement who are having to tap into their savings to help grown children who are in trouble. Grandparents are helping pay the expenses for grandchildren. And these are not children whose parents have abandoned them or otherwise have some issues. These are children being raised in middle-class, two-parent, two-income households.

If you’re retired and you have amassed a great deal of money and you want to help your adult children, who I am to criticize such generosity?

But the notes I get are from financially stressed-out seniors who complain about the constant requests for money from adult children with good jobs and income.

In their senior years, shouldn’t it be their adult children sending them money?

Parents shouldn’t have to beg their adult children to take care of them, says Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr., who addressed this issue in a recent sermon at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Md.

“They paid for you, they nurtured you, they put a roof over your head,” Jenkins said. “They took you around for your practices, and rehearsals, the least you can do is take care of them when they get old. But you’re 50 years old and they’re still taking care of you. You should be moving them into your house and here you come moving your stuff into their house.”

There are too many grown folks all too willing to ask for money from their parents. A new survey, “Preparing for Their Future: A Look at the Financial State of Gen X and Gen Y,” conducted for the American Savings Education Council and AARP found that 25 percent of respondents age 28 to 39 received financial support from friends or family in the past year.

“We are such a selfish culture that we are so worried about taking care of our stuff that we don’t even make plans to put something away for momma and daddy,” Jenkins said.

I had to stop a bit and consider what Jenkins was proposing. So many people are struggling, living paycheck to paycheck, that putting aside even $50 a month for their parents’ care is unimaginable.

I was raised by my grandmother, Big Mama, and I vowed that I would take care of her until the day she died. In fact, while in college I would send money home to help my grandmother with some of her bills.

After I graduated, I paid my grandmother’s property taxes every year (she had paid off her home). I regularly gave her money for groceries.

Big Mama never asked for a penny. She was too proud. But I built a cushion in my monthly budget to take care of the woman who raised me from the time I was four years old.

I never took a dollar from her after I began working full-time. How could I? Big Mama, who died in 1997, sacrificed so much to prevent me from growing up in foster care.

However, I will say this: If you want your adult kids to have the financial muscle to care for you as you age, then teach them when they are young how to handle their money. Surveys continue to show graduating high school seniors struggle with financial literacy basics.

In the Jump$tart Coalition’s biennial survey, high school seniors correctly answered only 48.3 percent of basic financial questions. That’s a failing grade. This mean score was down from the responses from seniors in 2006, who correctly answered 52.4 percent of the questions.

I may joke with my kids about helping take care of my husband and me in our old age, but we are very serious about making sure they actually can if they have to.

By Michelle Singletary

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.