Question: I recently quit my job and moved in to care for my elderly grandparents after they asked me to. I have two uncles and a father who do nothing but take her money. I am a single mother of four and my grandmother only puts gas in my car. How do I explain to her that I need money and I have four kids to support? She complains that she has no money but will write checks for hundreds of dollars to my uncle and father. I do everything for her and do not get paid. I am at my breaking point and I do not want to offend her in any way but I can't handle the stress of being broke. How do I approach this situation with her?
Dr. Amy: It's important to contract clearly with your grandparents about what you are going to give them and what you are getting in return. What were their expectations when they asked you to move in? What expectations did you have? If this was not clearly stated when you moved in, now is a good time to have the conversation. I understand your embarrassment in talking about money, especially with family. You may feel that, since they are family, you should take care of them out of love. At the same time, you are providing a service, you have bills to pay like everyone else, and you need to make a plan for your financial future.
Before you talk to your grandparents, be clear in your own mind about what you are willing to do if nothing changes. It's also a good idea to understand what supports might be available to you and your family because as they get older they will require more care. You can get more information at your local Area Agency on Aging. This page provides links to the Area Agency on Aging in all states.
Once you have the full picture, you might start by telling your grandparents that you'd like to talk to them about the caregiving arrangements, and set up a time that is convenient for everyone. If expectations were set before you moved in, you can say you'd like to revisit them. If expectations were not set, you can say that you feel like you need to gain clarity and set expectations so every knows what they can count on.
Not everyone is comfortable thinking on their feet. If they do better having time to think things over in advance, you might give them something in writing to review before you sit down to talk. Take a piece of paper, make two columns and in one column write down everything you do for them, and how much time it takes each week. In the second column, write down everything you receive from them that a reasonable person might expect to pay for. For example, are they housing and feeding your four children?
Begin the conversation with the end in mind. What does a positive and productive conversation look like? You might want to start by saying that you want to help them, but that it is starting to have a negative impact on you financially and you want to figure out how to balance this. What do you feel would be reasonable pay for the work you are doing?
Be clear in your own mind that you are going to see the conversation through. Remain open and positive, and aim for a win-win. Don't walk away until you have a resolution that everyone can live with —or if they need more time to think, then set a date when you will finish the conversation.
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