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Should You Quit a Job to Care for Your Parents? Here’s How to Decide.

There are costs to leaving your job to care for a parent — but are the benefits worth it?

by Dana Sitar | June 29, 2021
<p>Elder woman jogging with adult daughter on the beach</p>

People choose to leave work and care for aging parents for many financial, practical and emotional reasons.

The Squeeze

  • Adult children who quit their jobs to care for an aging parent sacrifice, on average, $303,880 in potential wages, retirement savings and Social Security benefits.
  • Before you leave the workforce, talk to your employer about flexible work options that could help you accommodate caregiving, and talk with siblings about sharing caregiving responsibilities and costs.
  • You could become eligible for insurance payments, tax breaks and unemployment benefits to mitigate your loss of income if you quit your job to care for a parent.

Leaving your job early might be an exciting midlife fantasy. Replacing work with full-time caregiving for an elderly parent? Likely not on your bucket list.

But if you’re witnessing an aging parent unable to care for themselves like they used to, vulnerable to financial scammers and suffering from declining health, it’s not unusual to feel a sense of duty to step in.

A 2011 study by MetLife found the percentage of adult children caring for a parent personally or financially had more than tripled in 15 years and that a quarter of adult children were providing care for a parent.

The cost of that move can be steep, though. Between potential wages, retirement funds and Social Security benefits, research from the National Institutes of Health found caregivers who quit their jobs lose on average $303,880 in wages and benefits.

That leaves you with a lot to consider — and discuss with your family — before deciding to quit your job to care for a parent.

This decision isn’t an easy one. To figure out the best move for you and your family, start by understanding the benefits and drawbacks of quitting your job to care for your parents.

Benefits of caring for your parents

People choose to leave work and care for aging parents for many financial, practical and emotional reasons, including:

  • Eliminate the cost of in-home care or adult daycare. With you covering the caregiving, you won’t have to pay for an expensive in-home nurse or other specialists to care for your parent while you’re at work.
  • Delay or eliminate the need for nursing home care. If you’re available to provide the bulk of care for several years, you could avoid moving your parent into a nursing home until their medical needs require it (or not at all).
  • Maintain or improve your relationship with your parent. Moving physically closer and spending more time with your parent(s) could add depth to your relationship that you may not have now.
  • Know the quality of their care at all times. With you as the caregiver, you don’t have to worry about the quality of care your parent might receive from another provider or facility.

Drawbacks to caring for your parents

For many, there’s no question whether you’ll stay home to care for your parents; it just feels like the right thing for your family. But even if it’s a foregone conclusion, you should consider some drawbacks you’ll need to mitigate.

The most obvious are financial concerns:

  • Loss of your income. The most blatant change you’ll face is the loss of your paycheck.
  • Reduced retirement and Social Security benefits. Don’t forget that, if you spend time out of the workforce, you miss out on potential employer contributions to a 401(k) and your own contributions, as well as years in the workforce that’ll determine your total Social Security benefits in retirement.
  • Time out of the workforce. If you’re out of your job for several years, you might suffer from out-of-date skills, potential ageism and a resume gap if you plan to go back to work later.

In addition to the financial concerns of leaving your job, you could face difficulties assuming the position of a caregiver.

  • Complexity of care: What kind of care does your parent require? Are you qualified to provide it? Opting to provide care yourself rather than hire a specialist might deprive your parent of the robust care they need, especially if they have complex medical needs.
  • Caregiver burnout and social isolation: If your parent needs round-the-clock care, the work could drain your reserves quickly. The role might also mean sacrificing events and nights out with friends, which could be particularly strenuous and isolating if you’ve only recently stopped caring for your own children.

Questions to consider before quitting your job

Make sure you’re well-prepared for this transition in your life. Before your quit your job, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you afford to leave your job? Without your current income, will you be able to keep up with financial obligations, adjust your lifestyle to reduce costs or find an alternative source of income?
  • Can you provide the care they need? How complex are your parent’s needs? Do you have the skills, patience and fortitude to meet them long-term?
  • Could you accommodate caregiving some other way? Before quitting your job or leaving the workforce outright, consider alternatives. Maybe your employer could offer a flexible schedule that lets you spend a crucial few hours each day with your parent. Or you could work from home to be available if needed. Maybe your work experience translates well into a freelancing career or developing methods of passive income, so you can continue to earn money but on your own terms.
  • Do you need to move? If you need to leave your current home to be near your parent, can you rent it so you can move back easily? Will it be easy to sell if you need to?
  • Will your parent live with you? If your parent plans to move into your home, consider the costs of any necessary changes you’ll need to make (as well as special loans or tax credits you could qualify for), as well as lifestyle changes, like caring for your kids and your parent at the same time.
  • Can you share caregiving with siblings? Does this responsibility have to fall entirely on you — or are you avoiding asking siblings for help with caregiving? If your siblings can’t offer help with caregiving, can they support you with payments that would make it easier for you to leave your job?

Support for caregivers

Once you decide to take on the responsibility of caregiving, look into these options for financial support:

  • Unemployment benefits: Depending on your state’s rules, you might qualify for unemployment if you have to cut your work hours to care for a family member. In most cases, unemployment recipients have to remain available for work, so this is probably only an option if you continue to work part-time while being a caregiver.
  • Tax filing: If your parent lives with you for at least half the year and is dependent on your (or your spouse’s) income, you can claim them as a dependent for tax purposes. This could let you deduct some of their medical or other expenses and make you eligible to file as head of household for a larger standard deduction.
  • Tax credits: If your parent qualifies as your dependent, you could receive the Credit for Other Dependents (similar to the Child Tax Credit) and the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which helps you cover medical expenses.
  • Medicaid Cash and Counseling Program: Your state might support this program, which lets you get direct payments from Medicaid for your caregiving work.
  • Insurance: Check your parent’s life insurance, long-term care insurance, health insurance (including Medicare) and VA benefits to see whether you could qualify to receive direct payments for your work as a caregiver.
  • Direct payments: If your parents or siblings have saved money to dedicate to long-term care, you could arrange with them to be paid directly while you provide care.

If you get paid for your caregiving duties from any source, make sure you have a legal contract outlining the services you provide and your pay, just as a professional caregiver would. This might be required for you to qualify for payments from some sources, and it’ll help you continue to contribute to retirement and Social Security while you’re otherwise out of the workforce.

About the Author

Dana Sitar has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers, and digital media. She trains journalists, writers, and editors on writing for the web and has written about work and money for publications including Forbes, The New York Times, CNBC, The Motley Fool, The Penny Hoarder and a column for Inc. Magazine.

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