Parent Care that Encourages Independence, Assurance, and Connection
It’s always a complicated situation wrapped in many emotions and tied with the best of intentions: parent care. As people age, it becomes more difficult for them to hold on to their independence and oftentimes, the more they see it slipping away, the more they try to keep a tight hold on it (which is, of course, understandable.)
There are many times in an aging parent’s life in which intervention of adult children is clearly needed – however, there is also a great number of instances in which it’s not so clear. The tug of war between children trying to help and parents trying to remain independent is a game that really has no winner and sadly, often grows more stressful, complicated, and frustrating as time goes on, for people on both ends of the rope.
Claire Berman is an aging parent and author who, several years ago, wrote a book about adult children managing the challenges of caring for their elderly parents. In a follow-up article she wrote in 2016 she explains, “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. Hence the push and pull when a well-meaning offspring steps onto our turf.”
Claire also tells a story about her friend Julia, 75, whose daughter moved closer to her recently. When Claire asked Julia if it was nice to be able to see her daughter much more often, Julia replied, “Yes, but whenever Brenda drops by, I’m not sure whether she’s come to visit or to check up on me. I feel like I’m constantly being assessed.”
And Julia is not alone.
Claire understands what she means, and so do many aging parents these days. Many seniors will check the due dates on their groceries before relatives come over, make sure the house is tidy, and other similar tasks are done. “Ten years ago, I probably would’ve enjoyed the fun (of her grandkids going through her spices checking expiry dates like it’s a game). Now, I’m more sensitive to being criticized.”
Unintentionally, adult children are making their elderly parents very self-conscious about their memory and all too often, will exchange long, meaningful looks at each other any time a parent has trouble finding the right words or they can’t remember a significant date. Sadly, what this accomplishes is nothing more than putting parents on edge when children come over for a visit. Many parents, in turn, sadly find themselves coming up with excuses to not see their children as often because of it.
What Do Aging Parents Really Need from their Adult Children?
In 2004, two professors from the State University of New York at Albany explored this very issue and conducted interviews focusing on groups of older adults. What the study found was that the participants wanted both autonomy and connection with their adult children; they hoped for independence as well as help from their children as it was needed. The aging adults in the study appreciate their children’s concern, but are also annoyed by their overprotectiveness.
More to It than Meets the Eye
As people age, one of the most frustrating and frightening things that happen is that they feel like they are not in control of things any longer – control of their lives, their surroundings, and decisions being made regarding these aspects. Steven Zarit, a professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University explains, “So if you tell your dad not to go out and shovel snow, you assume he’ll listen. It’s the sensible thing. But his response will be to go out and shovel away…it’s a way of holding on to a life that seems to be slipping away.”
In a study by Zarit, parental stubbornness was studied and not surprisingly, adult children often said their parents were acting stubborn much more often than parents saw that behavior in themselves. He explains that understanding why parents are resisting, persisting, and insisting in their ways can lead to better communication. He advises to not pick arguments, not make parents feel defensive or dependent, and to “plant an idea, step back, and bring it up later. Be patient.”
A Different Approach
Karen Fingerman was a co-author of Zarit’s study, and she suggests that research shows that adult children have a good idea of what their parents’ needs really are, and older parents should do better to try to understand the concerns of their child. When adult children are worried about their parents, the parent is annoyed, but also feels more loved.
It’s important that aging parents and their adult children always be patient, honest, and open with each other; while intentions are good on both sides, as the parent ages further, frustration and fear can set in more and more, tensions can rise, and it can seem like the relationship between parents and children strains. However, the key is to always look at each situation from the other’s point of view, and while the adult child must remember that it’s difficult for his or her parent, the parent must remember that it is also a difficult time for the child.
Much of the worry that befalls adult children of aging parents lies in the fact that they cannot “keep watch” on them as often as they’d like – until now. With Stay Smart Care’s system that combines personal professional interaction, home care services, and easily accessible ways to see how their parents are doing on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis, adult children can rest easy knowing their parents are alone without really being alone.
Contact us today to learn more about how your parent can retain their independence while still being monitored without interfering in their daily activities.