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- After years working for nonprofits, I am nearing age 60 without a pension or retirement savings.
- While financial help is only “supposed to” flow from parent to child in North America, that hasn’t been the case for me.
- It’s been awkward, but my daughter and son-in-law are helping to support me financially.
I’ll be 60 soon. For me, the prospect of retirement is terrifying. Or rather it would be, if I didn’t have a daughter with whom I have an exceptional relationship.
I will eventually have to stop working in my dotage, obviously. When I do, without help, I would have an impossibly low standard of living. Impossible because my total income from the government of Canada will be somewhere around $1,500 per month.
I have never had a job with a pension, nor have I been able to save. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto, where I live, is currently $2,100. Fortunately, I live in a rent-controlled two-bedroom for which I pay $1,800. I share it with a recent refugee, which helps us both.
I am on a waiting list for decent subsidized seniors’ housing, which could run me as little as $600 per month. The waiting list is about 12 years long, but I found out about it in time. Should I need assisted living, well … I can’t bear to think about that. The pandemic has proven that Ontario, like many other North American provinces and states, considers seniors dispensable.
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My financial journey hasn’t been linear
I grew up with race and class privilege. My intention was not to squander it, but rather to spread it around. I worked in the nonprofit sector, trying to more equally distribute opportunity and hope. Much of that work, I regret to say, has been undone. After many layoffs, I opted to run my own business, which failed spectacularly at the same time as my relationship. I have been unencumbered by assets ever since.
My mother died when I was only 26. I was too addled by grief and the stress of having to care for my father to cope with the ensuing windfall. My inheritance was not enough to live lavishly, but enough to put a sizable down payment on a house. I put $45,000 down on a $149,000 property, I remember exactly. A roughly equal amount I kind of let slip through my fingers — and my husband’s, which were extra slick. We were too young not to want to travel and eat in restaurants and buy grown-up stuff.
I was able to stay in the housing market until my business went bust. But as a woman over 50, I found my employability shockingly limited when I needed to return to the job market. I couldn’t even get the low-paying work I’d done before without a postgraduate degree. And I didn’t have one of those because I’d become a parent very young.
Things started to go south pretty quickly. I got only short-term contracts, and ended up working as a nanny. I got further and further into debt, not living large, but just buying groceries, prescription drugs, and sometimes a bit of art to keep my spirits up.
I eventually had to consolidate my debts through an insolvency agreement, which destroyed my credit rating but saved my bacon. Almost. Some months I still fell short, if I’d had an unforeseen expense or succumbed to a small urge to splurge. It really sucked. I had to think long and hard about how I’d gotten here, and try to forgive myself.
Asking my daughter for help was awkward, but we’re making it work
In North America, where adversity is meant to be overcome and the myth of the self-made man still dominates, the only direction that financial help is supposed to flow is from parent to child.
Much has been written lately about how only those millennials who can go to the bank of mom or dad will ever buy homes. Some of my contemporaries are still going to the bank of their very elderly moms or dads to make ends meet, because that generation, which paid 3 x annual salary for a home instead of 10 x annual salary, was able to save. Lots of my peers — especially the artists — don’t have pensions, and inflation has become unmanageable.
I have had to do the unthinkable and go to the bank of daughter and son-in-law, not that its reserve is large — they’ve just finished a multitude of university degrees and are getting established.
Why is financial help from child to parent so shameful? In many cultures, it wouldn’t be. Elders are respected, even revered. They are taken care of first. But not in my social circle.
It has felt very awkward to have to ask my daughter for help. All I could do to save face was joke that I’d provide more than her money’s worth in free childcare if she had kids. Which she did. And I did; I looked after my granddaughter full-time for a year during the pandemic. I continue to dash back and forth to help with her new twin sisters as often as my half-time employment and writing gigs allow. As we’ve navigated our way through this mutual-aid arrangement, my daughter has persuaded me to stop doing the math.
My daughter Emma, now 36, reminds me often of the values I instilled in her (she wasn’t a red diaper baby exactly, but fairly pink): dependence is not weakness, economic polarity is appalling, greed is pretty much the worst fault a person can have. And money is no way to assess worth. So I try to heed her reminders.
I no longer write myself IOU notes to track her assistance. I’m glad I succumbed to a sales pitch for whole life insurance years ago; I feel good about leaving at least this, since there will be no inheritance. What makes me feel far better, though, is knowing that my beneficiary doesn’t care about the policy and would prefer not to collect on it for a very long time.