Two smiling women sit with their mother on a couch

Full hands, full hearts: becoming a caregiver

Caring for a spouse or parent is a love story that, like others, has obstacles to overcome.

A long-retired Army nurse, Nina, was living alone in the home that she and her husband bought when they retired to Florida some 40 years prior. Over time, she found herself driving less often, sometimes skipping Sunday service and ending her 30-year run as a museum docent. But Nina could still get around, taking short trips for groceries and an occasional visit. Well into her 80s, she kept finding ways to make it work. Until she couldn’t.

It was around noon when Nina’s only daughter, Darcy, got a call. A friend found Nina on the living room floor, unable to do more than shout for help.

Darcy arranged for an eldercare professional to check in every day, but Nina’s health continued to decline. When the cycle of hospital visits and nursing home stays became too much, Darcy and her husband decided to invite Nina to live with them and their teenage children. She would work from home three days a week and care for her mother, sometimes with the help of an in-home nurse or physical therapist.

It was hard – but they made do. Yet she, like many other women, paid the price in other ways. Studies show that women are at greater risk of experiencing career and financial gaps due to caring for others. But being prepared can better position you and your family to care for loved ones without sacrificing your emotional, physical or financial well-being.

The bottom line

As Americans live longer, the caregiving community is growing. Many of us prefer to live at home and often rely on those closest to us for support. In 2020, approximately 53 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. Women made up 61% of them, serving as hands-on healthcare providers, care managers, decision-makers and advocates.

The labor of love takes a toll. It’s common for women to leave the workplace altogether to assume the caregiver role full time (and this is after they may already be making less because they took a break earlier in their career to care for children). That decision, though, will likely reduce their future Social Security payouts as well as their ability to save for retirement.

Also consider who will fund the care for your loved one. If you will be helping monetarily, make sure you don’t jeopardize your own retirement or your children’s college funds. It’s wise to talk to your financial advisor about how to maximize household Social Security, replace lost income and get your own long-term care insurance, as well as what trade-offs you may be willing to make.

Caring for a friend or family member is a noble act of love that has the power to deepen relationships at a time when it’s needed most. Indeed, it’s a labor of love with physical, emotional and financial obstacles, but success is possible with the help of friends, family and some smart financial planning.

Next steps

To reduce the pressure of supporting a loved one:

  • Put a plan in place before you need it so you’re not scrambling under duress.
  • Make a list of ways in which others can help and let them choose what they can take on.
  • Reach out to family, friends and fellow caregivers for a break and welcome company.
  • Set the tone with other loved ones as early as possible, and let others offer help. As responsibilities grow, they will expect to continue offering support.


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