In his spare time, caregiving consultant and healthcare speaker Dr. Aaron Blight is happy to answer questions on Quora about caregiving organizational development, healthcare consulting, senior care, and many other topics. In this month’s post, we highlight his recent answer dealing with aging parents and emotional support from their adult children. At the time of publishing this piece, Dr. Blight’s response (posted below) has nearly 500 upvotes!
When I owned my home care company, our team took care of an elderly married couple. The couple lived in a house alone together, and one of their daughters, Connie, lived down the street.
Connie had moved there in order to provide support and understanding to her parents. In connection with that support, she hired us to regularly visit her parents’ home for help.
Because of our presence in the home, we had learned that one night the couple’s son, who lived in another area, was planning to come to town to have dinner with his parents. In a conversation that morning with Connie, our employee mentioned the upcoming dinner.
Connie was startled to hear that her brother was coming to town and having dinner with their parents. “What? I didn’t know about any dinner tonight! Nobody told me that my brother was coming!”
Connie whipped up some mashed potatoes and walked down the street to join the dinner with her family.
The next morning, a fuming elderly mother called me. In her trembling voice, she yelled, “We didn’t tell Connie that our son was coming to dinner last night because we didn’t want Connie to be there!”
I can still hear the 81-year-old woman scolding me on the phone. But it makes me smile as I write about it today.
It was one of many instances within this family where the aging parents’ expectations of “understanding and support” were markedly different from what was offered by their adult daughter. On a number of occasions, the elderly mother expressed to me that she wished Connie would stop “smothering” them. In Connie’s mind, she was doing what any dutiful adult daughter would do for aging parents.
Often I have seen “understanding and support” turn into “smothering and control” as adult children get involved in the lives of their aging parents.
I have also seen situations where “understanding and support” could be better described as “disappearing and denial” insofar as aging parents assert, or adult children believe, that no help whatsoever is necessary.
Somewhere in the middle is the best you can really hope for, the best you can expect. If you are an aging parent and your adult child genuinely listens, offers help when you want it and when you really need it, and respects the decisions you have made about your life, then you’ve got a pretty good foundation of “understanding and support” that will make the waning years of your life a little easier to bear.