I recently came across a March 4, 2016, article from the Atlantic magazine, What Aging Parents Want From Their Kids. The author, Claire Berman, looks at the tension between what seniors want for themselves and what their adult children want for them. The older parents, suggests Ms. Berman, want to retain their independence, which can often bump up against their children’s need to make sure their parents are safe and getting any help they may need.
It’s a universal human truth. There are points in our lives when independence is what we most yearn for. When we are young children we look forward eagerly to the independence we will gain as we grow older. Later, as we age, we defend our independence as something we earned and want, but are at risk of losing. This can be terrifying.
Those with aging parents know they need to think about what their parents may need, now and in the future. Ms. Berman writes, “As parents get older, attempts to hold on to our independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned “suggestions” from our children. We want to be cared about, but fear being cared for.” The author also shares findings from a 2004 study which concluded, in part: aging parents have a ‘strong desire for both autonomy and connection in relations with their adult children, leading to ambivalence about receiving assistance from them. They are annoyed by children’s over protectiveness but appreciate the concern it expresses.’”
We humans are great at holding sometimes opposing ideas in our heads at the same time. With young children, parents can simultaneously feel love and annoyance. When my kids were young I know I had thoughts such as, “I love you but you’re driving me crazy.” There are also the opposing feelings of an adult child who is concerned about any number of things in their aging parent’s life. Right now there are individuals saying to their parents, “I respect you and your right to make your own decisions, but it is no longer safe for you to drive,” or “You are capable and responsible but your electricity was turned off because you did not pay the bill and I’d like to help you with that.”
While it is common to resist the idea of accepting help, our experience at Family Resource Home Care is that most elders welcome the care and concern. I know many families that work well together to provide just the right amount of care, adjusting as the needs of the older adult change. But that doesn’t mean it feels good to have lived a life of independence and now be relying on your kids. Still, there are millions of older adults who would love to have the problem of being annoyed by their helpful, caring kids including isolated elders who have no one, or those who don’t have a good relationship with their adult children. But for those who do, the important thing is to strike a balance and communicate well. When older adults can say what they want and need, and their adult children can honestly voice their concern and both parties listen to and show respect for each other, families can usually find a way that works for them.