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Soothing some big single parent fears, one step at a time

This post is sponsored by AARP's Decide. Create. Share. initiative, a no-cost program to help women take steps to secure their futures. As a part of the initiative's Kitchen Cabinet, I've been invited to take part in the 40-Day Pledge to get my financial, health care and legal business in order. 

Nobody really wants to be contacted by AARP. That little card in the mail means you are nearing 50. It also means you are of the age when your magazine cover models are proudly sporting white streaks in their hair and discussing grandparenting issues. 

God bless them, my parents ranty-joked for years about being far too young to be a member of AARP (or AARPssss, as my mom calls it) but now in their mid-60s, they will whip out that card faster than you can say "10% discount" at the Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru. It makes me happy that they save $1.46 but I am not ready for AARP. I AM WAY TOO YOUNG FOR AARP.

Right? I just started my 40s. Wrong. I mean, right about the age but wrong about needing AARP. Right now, at this very moment, in this decade, AARP reached out to me to help me get my business in order so that I can get to that little-card time fully prepared, secure and on-track.

It all sounds very responsible, doesn't it? Here's the deal: All of us who dread getting the AARP card probably also dread talking about super-adult-sounding things like advance directives and retirement savings and cholesterol screenings. And nearly all of us would probably raise our hand if someone asked if we are far too young/busy/overwhelmed/emotional/unprepared to take a first, small step toward handling that business.

I am one of those people. I have had a few big-business items on my to-do list for many years. One of them is create a will. The other is to file all of my important paperwork into a binder that is accessible to my loved ones. A final item is to plan my own funeral.

I first envisioned this to-do list when my brother was in the ICU after a life-threatening accident. When a family is gathered around an unconscious loved one's hospital bed for weeks and weeks, a lot of otherwise undiscussed topics are put on the table, right next to the mustard-colored plastic pitcher of water, a frightening medical chart and too many prescription bottles. 

My parents and I began an ongoing conversation that has now lasted more than a decade. Who should make health decisions if you are unable to make them yourself? Where do you want to be buried? What hymns would you like to be sung at your funeral? What kind of health insurance do you have?

It may sound morbid, but in fact, it was life-giving. I felt relieved to hear my family's wishes for their end-of-life and I felt soothed to trust them with my own details. A few times a year, the conversation is opened up again. And every time, we promise each other -- PROMISE -- that we will make it all legal and official. But we never have.

In the years since those first discussions, I've gotten married, become a mother, been divorced and found love again. All of those transitions have produced mountains of paperwork. There are legal agreements that my state requires of me as a divorced co-parent that mean I have a healthy life insurance policy and a parenting plan in place should I die before my son is 18. 

I'm grateful the state made me get those affairs in order because my biggest fear as a single parent is that I will die long before the AARP card arrives in my mail box and my son will be left without -- a mother, my guidance, college funds, a trust for everyday expenses. 

But I know there is much more to do. I still fret over this fear every time I get a mammogram or I'm anywhere close to a car accident near-miss. It would be horrible if the worst happened, and it would be awful if my parents, my brother, the Not Boyfriend or anyone else had to deal with more paperwork mountains, legalities, confusion and guessing if I was unable to make decisions or find the right documents myself. 

There are a lot of uncertainties, a lot I can't manage, but I can take charge of these affairs. I can organize my paperwork, finally make an appointment with a lawyer to outline a will, and put it all in a place for my loved ones so that it can be passed off easily in a crisis. It's a little nerve-wracking, of course, but it also comes with comfort. In a crisis, there is enough emotion and too many decisions. I want to do what I can so my family, should they have to, can deal with that stuff rather than this stuff.

Here's where AARP is helping me. Their Decide. Create. Share. program enables women to take seven simple steps to put personalized affairs in order. You can take a 40-Day Pledge for free that will walk you through home safety, long-term savings and other areas that we've gotten really good at pushing aside. One of my favorite parts of the pledge is a Valuable Documents list, a worksheet where you can list all your vital information, doctor contacts and where you are housing your own mountain of paperwork. It's a simply formatted list that I have filled out and placed in a red emergency folder where my family knows to retrieve it. I've also made copies for them to fill out. 

Even if you don't know or have all the information, this handy worksheet can serve as a guide for what you'd like to pull together over the next month, year or longer.

I've taken the 40-Day Pledge, and in a short while, I am already almost 3/4 of my way through it. Awesome, right? Sort of. I have some big phone calls to make, I have some deep breathing to do. But most importantly, I feel like I have a structure and a timeline for getting this business out of the clutter of my desk and mind and schedule and finally taking care of it.

I also am in great company. If we share what we are working on (that final, fabulous step in the initiative) online or in conversation, we will be supporting each other in managing the affairs that we've set aside. I feel like there is some big power and worry-soothing by checking this stuff of our lists, no matter whether we are single mamas, partnered parents, AARP members or far from holding on to that little card at Dunkin' Donuts. 

I feel better already. Won't you join me in getting to that good, prepared place? Click here for more information on Decide. Create. Share. and to get started today.

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Reader Comments (2)

Jessica, this is a wonderful and very important post that makes clear how beneficial the 40 day pledge and design.create.share program are to younger women for whom the AARP seems like a far-away idea. As moms, we make contingency planning a part of parenting. Long-term planning is an extension of good parenting. The Valuable Documents Checklist is one of my favorite parts of the program, too!

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergrownandflown

Thank you so much for sharing your story and saving lives all over the world!

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBriana Mateo

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