What Aging Parents Really Want from Their Adult Children

Ellen, 75, was thrilled at first when her daughter, Samantha, moved back to Northern Virginia with her family. She loved seeing her grandchildren and enjoyed being there for their concerts, soccer games, and birthday parties. Her feelings began to change, however, when Samantha began dropping by, acting overly critical, and assessing everything from the cleanliness of Ellen’s home to the food in her refrigerator. It got to a point where Ellen was not sure whether her daughter was coming to visit or to check up on her.

Samantha even had the grandkids go through Ellen’s cabinets to check ‘use by’ dates on Ellen’s food. For them it was a game, except Ellen didn’t feel like playing. Ten years ago, she probably would have joined in the fun.  Now she is much more sensitive to being criticized.

In the end, the only thing Samantha’s scrutiny accomplished was putting Ellen on edge when they spent time together. So, although Ellen still enjoyed seeing her daughter and grandchildren, she began looking for excuses to see them less often.

What Are Older Parents Looking for in Relationships with their Adult Children?

As parents get older, attempts to hold on to independence can be at odds with well-intentioned suggestions from their adult children. A study titled, “The Bitter with the Sweet”- Older Adults’ Strategies for Handling Ambivalence in Relations with Adult Children” conducted by public-health professor Mary Gallant and sociologist Glenna Spitze from the State University of New York at Albany, explored the issue of what aging parents really want from their adult children. The researchers conducted interviews with focus groups of older adults, and their findings were as follows:

  • Aging parents who live independently expressed a strong desire for both autonomy and connection in relations with their adult children, leading to ambivalence about receiving assistance from them.
  • Most seniors want to have control over their lives, but at the same time, they want to have their children intervene and offer help, if they express a need for it.
  • They might express some resistance from the help offered by their children but deep inside, they truly appreciate it.
  • They want to be treated normally and not as an incompetent.
  • They use a variety of strategies to deal with their ambivalent feelings, such as minimizing the help they receive and ignoring or resisting children’s attempts to control.

Advice for the Adult Child

As our parents age and need more help, it’s natural to want to lend a hand. However, when you get involved, you need to make sure that you don’t become domineering. Why? Seniors who feel like their children are trying to take over their lives get resentful and angry — and as a result often disregard their help just to spite them or assert their independence.

This is why it’s important that as our parents age and do start to lose some of their abilities, that we stay aware of how we’re communicating with them. Being respectful and mindful of boundaries are actually the cornerstones of all healthy relationships. So, when we want to get someone close to us to consider a new approach or solution, it’s imperative to consider their feelings and potential reactions and to let sensitivity and kindness guide our actions.
When communicating with aging parents:

  • Show respect: A big part of striking the right balance has to do with how we speak and act. It’s imperative that we show respect, not attempt to force our will, and to make everything a negotiation (or at least offer options).
  • Pick your battles: Let your parents do as much as they can and don’t sweat the small stuff. This way, when you have to focus on the important things, like health, finances and safety, you’re less likely to meet opposition.
  • Make suggestions, instead of giving orders: Ask questions about how they feel and what they need. If parents don’t feel infantilized or pushed into situations, they’re more likely to be open to solutions you work out together.
  • If you think your parents can do something by themselves, let them: But if they — or someone else — could be harmed, don’t feel guilty about getting involved.
  • Reframe, don’t blame: A slip of the tongue can unleash a world of hurt and ill will. As exasperating as aging parents can be, spouting off without thinking will only make them — and you — feel bad.
  • Stop and think how you would want to be treated: It’s important to keep things as positive as possible while we find ways to help our parents as they age.

Are You an Aging Parent or an Adult Child (or Both)?
Remember, the most important thing as we age, is that we go out of our way to maintain good relationships. And good relationships come with patience, understanding, and empathy. Be kind and respectful to each other and make the most of the time you have together as a family!

Planning for the Future is Important for ALL Families
We here at Farr Law Firm, P.C. have strategies in place to help all types of families plan for themselves and their loved ones. With advance planning, each person, regardless of their family situation, can retain the income and assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate and the peace of mind that their needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done your Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you haven’t had your planning reviewed and updated in the last five years, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.