I didn’t count on living this long: My money is running out and I’m ashamed of being a burden to my kids


This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

My widowed mother was left with debts and a bare bank account. So, she married an older man she thought wealthy. “I don’t want to be a burden to my kids,” she said.

Remarriage is not my goal, but I’m in the same boat as Mom. And mine is sinking.

In a little over a year, my retirement funds will be gone. My only income will be Social Security.

Fortunately, I have two adult children who have pledged to support me. But does that require them to sustain me in a posh high-rise? Do they have to pay the membership of my tony health club?

But more important, how do I handle my shame?

It’s not my children who are placing this shroud around my aging neck. They are proud of their ability to step in. The cloud hovers only over me.

This is what I can’t understand. I have always worked. I taught grammar school prior to my first marriage in 1960. I worked for a major real-estate company. I was a press aide for Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and School Superintendent Ruth Love. A big city mayor! A system of 649 schools and 341,382 students.

I am not without credentials. But evidently, I am diminished by a severe planning deficit. And the solution selected by my late dear mother holds no appeal.

My shame is linked to a résumé that included my own PR agency that represented nonprofit organizations. I can give you names for references.

Unlike Mom, there was a time when I was flush with funds. When my first spouse and I divorced in 1996, we split the sale of our Chicago home. I was all set.

I remarried in 1998. My second husband Tommy was a dream of a mate. He entered our union with his modest life savings, which he turned over to our joint bank account. Blissful in this fresh union, I suggested we retire. We were in our late 60s, both with Social Security, and my remaining funds.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 hit. My balance sheet was cut in half. Somehow, I was not worried.

Tommy died in 2012. I sold our home and moved to my current neighborhood. Rents continue to rise. My retirement funds slide in the opposite direction.

What I didn’t count on was living this long. I turned 85 in August. My father died at 45, mother at 67. How could I live to this old age? I’m currently heathy. If an accident or errant cell doesn’t intervene, I could live into my 90s.

Related: Americans are ‘more afraid of running out of money than death’

Fearful of being a burden

I wonder if others my age are in similar situations. Most may not be as fortunate as I. They may not have children who pledge to prevent my relocation to humbler quarters.

But then there’s the shame. How could a woman as competent as I, with an employment record so stellar, wind up a burden to her children, like my mom feared?

Any changes in the steps I’ve outlined could’ve altered the outcome. I could have chosen a wealthy fella for my second spouse. Why didn’t I? My marriage to Tommy brought riches of love, respect, happiness. That was a worthy bargain.

I am proud of my talented offspring. But they have children of their own. Expenses to fuel their careers. Responsibilities I’m not aware of. Why do they have to fund my old age?

I’m considering downsizing. I could move out of this classy neighborhood and find one more affordable. I could end my membership in my high-class health club.

Read: How to downsize—fast

My children would still have to pay my rent, but it would be considerably less. There are many neighborhoods where I think I can be happy. All I need is access to a park so my dog Doris can romp.

I know there are those who read this and want to throw a brick my way. “What is she complaining about? She will never be on the street or worry about her next meal. She should shut up and count her blessings.” I agree.

Like my widowed mother, I don’t want to be a burden to my kids. But I will not replicate her route, which turned out tragic. Her husband was a cheapskate, suffered dementia, and outlived her by many years.

Read next: My wife and I are 62 and have about $3 million. I think she can retire. ‘How do you know when you have enough money?’

While I’m more fortunate than my mother, that doesn’t shrink my shame. How could I have witnessed her last years and now have my hand out to my children?

I’m grateful my kids are stepping up. But how do I handle the disappointment I feel about myself?

Elaine Soloway is a PR consultant, writing coach and tech tutor, and the author of “Bad Grandma and Other Chapters in a Life Lived Out Loud” and “Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss.” The Emmy Award-winning television series ‘Transparent’ was created by Elaine Soloway’s child Joey and inspired by their family. Follow Elaine on Facebook, Twitter @elainesoloway and Instagram. 

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, ©2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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