Mom and I have always had a pretty good relationship, but lately it’s getting strained. She complains that I’m fussing over her too much, and I think she’s starting to make excuses for me to not come over. She’s 80 and can’t do everything she used to. I’m just trying to take care of her, but she’s making it hard.
This article in The Atlantic highlights a perspective we don’t always take into consideration — how our aging parents feel about us helping them. We’re just trying to help, right? So why are they making it hard?
The author’s discussions with her peers revealed an interesting dynamic. They sometimes felt their adult children were being unnecessarily overprotective — and it both annoyed them and made them feel cared for, which can explain the friction that can arise in their relationships.
We wanted to get more insight into this, so we did a social media survey of some senior parents about their adult children. Here’s what they told us:
Do your adult children offer to do things you feel you can take care of on your own?
Hardly Ever: 35%
Do you feel they’re coming over to check up on you instead of just to visit?
Hardly Ever: 69%
How does their overprotectiveness make you feel?
Cared for: 49%
As you can see, our results were similar to the feedback in The Atlantic article. And as with most things in life, there’s some room for improvement.
Do You Know What’s on Their Minds?
Have you stopped to think about how your parents feel about your efforts to help? It’s easy to assume we know what they want or what’s best for them. But those assumptions can put tension into your relationship.
In our survey, we asked senior parents what they would like to say to their adult children about what they want from them at this point in their lives. They told us:
- “Don’t worry about me. Enjoy your life. If I need you, you would be the first person I’d call.”
- “Don’t worry about me. Live your own lives.”
- “Pay more attention to us!”
- “I need your help, but not for all things.”
- “Treat me as a friend.”
- “Visit often — I am lonely.”
The most telling response was this one: “We want to be treated like an adult. And I think sometimes our children don’t mean to treat us like children. I think they just want to keep us alive as long as possible.”
So sometimes our love and concern can manifest in ways that are frustrating or even demeaning to our parents. And nobody wants that. If you find yourself in this situation, what can you do?
Three Things Your Parents Want from You
When you boil things down, three themes are common to what aging parents want from their children:
- Show respect. Parents are adults with opinions, preferences and lives of their own. What you think is a problem might not be one at all. Or it could be a symptom of something else. So instead of jumping in and acting on a perceived need, ask them about it. Talk about what you’re seeing and why it’s concerning you. Get their input on solutions, and respect their wishes. Unless there’s a health or safety issue, you might not need to intervene as much as you think.
- See who they are now. Your mom or dad isn’t the same parent they were when you were a kid or teenager living at home. They’ve changed and grown, just as you have. But sometimes we fall into old family patterns and respond to the person they used to be. Take a step back and try to appreciate who they’ve become. It will make your relationship a healthier and richer one.
- Be happy. If you have kids of your own, think about what you really want for them in life — to be happy. Well, your parents are parents, too. And while they still want to be part of your lives, most don’t want you to worry too much about them or sacrifice your happiness for them. When you’re happy, they really are happy, too — because they love you. And your happiness also means they can know they did a good job raising you.
So if trying to take care of your aging parent is causing some friction between you, it may be worth talking about. Keep these common wishes in mind. Ask questions. And listen well. You’ll both be glad you did.
Bonus tip: If you think you need to raise the topic of moving to a senior living community, make sure you take these parental desires into account as well. Here are some tips to help you do that and start a positive conversation. Tips for Talking to Your Parents About Senior Living Choices