As therapists we understand how difficult it is to be a young child or a teen of divorced parents. Sometimes parents try to pull their child in each direction, kids having to listen to one parent bad mouth your other parent, the horrors of splitting holidays, and having to move from one home to the next, week after week. But no one ever considers the challenges of being the adult child of divorced elderly parents.
Now Mom and Dad are seniors. Mom may need a hearing aid, Dad can no longer drive, Mom may get dementia, and well Dad he’s not doing so well either. As a married couple, they could have relied on each other for support. And hopefully their children are nearby to support them through their golden years.
Challenges divorced elderly couple Face
But the divorced elderly couple as separate individuals will probably face the rest of their golden years on their own. As a recently divorced person they may face challenges they were not expecting. We can think of stereotypes such as Mom has never handled their finances or learnt to drive. Dad maybe doesn’t cook or do laundry or housework. Older couples face unique aging-related issues such as reduced income, loneliness, no one to rely on, health concerns, financial confusion, or lack of understanding how to use new technology.
What limited research has been done on divorced seniors shows that Dads are more likely to be isolated and unable to get emotional or personal care support from their adult children as they age. Ironically parents who remarried after divorce are also less likely to receive personal care and emotional or financial support from their adult children as they entered there senior years.
Who takes care of whom?
One of the challenge becomes for children of divorced parents is who takes care of whom and how do you possibly take care of two people who don’t live with each other without burning out? Sometimes Mom and Dad no longer live in the same city or they have new partners. Are you supposed to now take care of your Dad and your stepdad? Where do your loyalties lie?
Whenever possible, try to keep all family members involved in the care giving process, even if they live far away. Even before your divorced parent might need assistance, try to organize a family meeting. Engage your siblings and other relatives to help you out. Part of the family can care for Dad while the other relatives care for Mom.
Ask for Support
Ask your siblings and other family members for support. Let them know what they can do to help you care for your divorced parents. Help does not always have to be physical help. They can care for your kids or provide social support for you. Or even offer to help pay for a home care health worker or some to clean the house for Mom or Dad.
Have this discussion with your siblings and your parents before you reach a crisis. Is there one sibling who is better able to care for Mom or has a better relationship with Dad. How do you, the adult kids envision helping your parents as they age? What do Mom and Dad want? Do you know your stepparents’ children? How will they or do they want to care for their parent? What provisions have your parent and their new partner made for end of life care or when there is a medical emergency?
While these are not easy questions to ask it’s a discussion worth having now instead of at 3 in the morning in the emergency ward.