What Aging Parents Want From Their Kids

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What Aging Parents Want From Their Kids

Choice Connections of VAThere’s a fine line between caring and controlling—but older adults and their grown children often disagree on where it is.

Several years ago, I wrote a book aimed at helping adult children of my generation manage the many challenges of caring for our aging parents. I interviewed just about anyone and everyone who I thought could shed light on the subject. Everybody, that is, except the aging parents.

That now strikes me as a glaring omission. No doubt it’s because I’ve since become an aging parent that I find myself looking at the matter of parent care from a different perspective. Certainly, there are situations where an adult child’s intervention in the ailing parent’s life is clearly needed, but what if this isn’t one of those times?

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.

So what are older parents looking for in relationships with their adult children? In a 2004 study, two professors from the State University of New York at Albany, the public-health professor Mary Gallant and the sociologist Glenna Spitze, explored the issue in interviews with focus groups of older adults. Among their findings: Their participants “express a strong desire for both autonomy and connection in relations with their adult children, leading to ambivalence about receiving assistance from them. They define themselves as independent but hope that children’s help will be available as needed. They are annoyed by children’s over-protectiveness but appreciate the concern it expresses. They use a variety of strategies to deal with their ambivalent feelings, such as minimizing the help they receive, ignoring or resisting children’s attempts to control …”

A recent study by Zarit and his colleagues looked at parental stubbornness as a complicating factor in intergenerational relationships. Not surprisingly, adult children were more likely to say their parents were acting stubborn than the parents were to see the behavior in themselves. Understanding why parents may be “insisting, resisting, or persisting in their ways or opinions,” the study reads, can lead to better communication. Zarit’s advice to the adult child: “Do not pick arguments. Do not make a parent feel defensive. Plant an idea, step back, and bring it up later. Be patient.”

Karen Fingerman, who was a co-author on Zarit’s study, suggests a different approach. A professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, Fingerman is also the director of a three-generational study that focuses on middle-aged children and how they care for the generations above and below them. “The research shows that they have a pretty good idea of what their parents’ needs really are,” she says. “Older parents might do better to try to understand and address the child’s concerns. We found in our research that when the middle-aged adult is worried about the aging parent, the parent is both annoyed by that and feels more loved.”

Written By Claire Berman, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/when-youre-the-aging-parent/472290/

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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