Life comes full circle when a child has to care for her or his aging parents. Though most parents these days prefer to stay independent as long as their health permits, age related problems, diseases and demise of the life partner often leads children to take reigns of caregiving in their hands. Sangeeta Menon, who quit her corporate life two years ago and works with an NGO, has been caring for her mother since the last three and a half years, after the demise of her father. “Dad passed away in February 2016 and after that mom started living with us – me, my teenaged daughter and my husband. For 7 years prior to dad’s passing, although I was not the primary caregiver, I used to help my parents with a lot of errands and tasks as I lived closer to them than my other siblings.”
According to Menon caring for an aging parent comes with a whole gamut of challenges, from feeling overwhelmed by the many little things that need to be done every day like giving her her medicines, taking her for doctor’s visits, shopping and banking, as the new-age system can be quite intimidating for an elderly person. Sometimes she feels guilty that she isn’t doing enough for her. “Caught as I am between the needs of a teenaged daughter and an ageing parent, both demand my attention and care and, of course, I also try to find some time for my husband and myself. There are days when I feel physically exhausted too!” she says.
I started saving a little even from my modest salary as a trainee journalist (my first job). And I saved regularly. Although I wasn’t the smartest at investing my money, I was disciplined. I think that is a good habit to inculcate early on. – Sangeeta Menon.
Sangeeta reveals that as a child, her Amma always encouraged her sisters and her to become financially independent and she is grateful to her for that, as it has come in handy now. Says she, “I started saving a little even from my modest salary as a trainee journalist (my first job). And I saved regularly. Although I wasn’t the smartest at investing my money, I was disciplined. I think that is a good habit to inculcate early on.” Over the years, Sangeeta kept diversifying her investments with advice from family and friends. A few years ago though, when the pressures of a demanding fulltime career and parenting started mounting up, she decided to go the portfolio management services route, so that she was free of the burden of looking after her investments on a frequent basis.
So how has proper financial planning helped her in being a caregiver to her mother? “Having my own savings has certainly helped me because, being a fiercely independent woman, I can look after my own as well as Amma’s needs without having to ask for financial help from my husband or my siblings,” she reveals.
Daughters are however usually not seen as caregivers to parents in old age, though that is not the reality. Menon feels that this perception needs to change. According to her, “We see a lot more women now taking care of their parents. Thankfully, growing up in a family where there was no son preference and where we had seen Amma look after her own mother and grand-aunts in their old age, we sisters never had this notion that parents are the sole responsibility of sons.” She adds that changing perceptions must begin with how we bring up our children and being mindful of the constant messaging we give them through our words and actions.
Having my own savings has certainly helped me because, being a fiercely independent woman, I can look after my own as well as Amma’s needs without having to ask for financial help from my husband or my siblings. – Sangeeta Menon
Does she think that financial independence can enable more women to take up this duty and challenge the patriarchal mentality in our society? “Absolutely!” she says, “As I mentioned earlier, having my own money has helped me take responsibility for my mother’s care. And not just as a duty- when I look back I’m glad I was able to take my parents on a few holidays, spend quality time watching my daughter bond with her grandparents. I’m grateful that I could make those experiences possible before my Dad passed away.”
As for patriarchal mindset, Sangeeta says that unless we start challenging them at the level of the family and the home, specifically in the way we bring up our children things won’t begin to shift. It would, also help if the messaging via mass media, our films and advertising, for e.g., stopped perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes. “Aren’t we tired of seeing parents saving for their son’s education and daughter’s weddings, of men being shown as the ones responsible for the family’s financial security?” she asks.
Taking professional assistance to manage my investment portfolio has eased some of the pressure on my time and mindspace. – Sangeeta Menon
We asked Sangeeta to tell us how she managed her money. “I can’t claim to be the smartest of investors! For the longest time, I was very risk averse and I kept most of my money parked in traditional investment tools. However, I changed (very gradually) and now have a more balanced portfolio of investments. Also, taking professional assistance to manage my investment portfolio has eased some of the pressure on my time and mindspace.”
But she feels that there’s still more work to do. Until a couple of years ago she was in a full time corporate job that gave her parents a generous medical cover. With that safety net gone after she left that job to work in the social sector, she needs to make sure she buys a good medical insurance for Amma. “I have been tardy in getting that done, but that’s top priority now! I should never have delayed it this much.”