You Can’t Parent Your Parent — No Matter What

I just read a touching 2013 column about supporting elderly parents, written by Washington Post columnist, Cortland Milloy.

In his column Milloy addresses the notion, so prevalent these days, that many of us are “parenting our parents.” I’ll let you read the column for yourself, but I have some firm issues when it comes to the idea of parenting parents. Bottom line? I do not use the phrase.

I believe that my parents are elders, and no matter how frail they become, they possess more experience and wider perspective than I do at my younger age. I support, help, assist, and sometimes take charge to make the occasional decision — if absolutely necessary. I consider their welfare, just as they continue, even at their advances ages, to think about mine.

Aging in the later years of life is not fun. People lose their sense of independence, their cars, their friends, their ability to make decisions, and so much more. No matter what, despite either immense physical challenges or failings of memory, we should work hard to give them credit for, to recognize, and to celebrate the well-lived lives they have led.

As for my parents? They are fragile, but if anything, they continue to parent me.

Advice-giving, Aging Parents & Adult Children

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My parents and me.

Advice-giving can trip up the elder parent – adult child relationship and even cause painful divisions between parent and child.

My mother will ask me a question and the answer is fairly straightforward, but then I’ll keep on answering, advising, really. At other times, I offer unsolicited advice about one thing or another. Usually my mother listens, but it’s not uncommon for her to give me the aggravated look that she used when I was five years old and not following her directions. It’s miraculous that my parents, while momentarily irritated with me, are quick to forgive and, yes, even offer me their own advice. We trust one another, and that’s key.

I know that I should be better about offering too much advice, but it’s hard.

A thoughtful article, The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice, posted at Krista Tippett’s On Being website, has encouraged me to think about the advice I so effortlessly offer my mom. In his essay, On Being columnist Parker J. Palmer writes that people who need support find it considerably more helpful when we concentrate on listening and asking questions and give advice only when a person insists that we give it. I need to get better at asking questions.

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Performing or Leading an Event With Elders? Don’t Forget the Conversation

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 3.10.19 PMWhen a group performs or conducts an activity for elders, taking the time to make conversation is the most important part of the visit.

Just about all of us have accompanied a group of performers or led an activity for elders — sometimes in a long-term community and at other times in one part of another of a retirement community. Those of who are the leaders of these events usually practice as a group, ensure that each participant understands his or her task, and pay close attention to the transportation details.

After conversations with my parents and several other elders, I’ve learned about one detail that I overlooked when I accompanied groups. The elders with whom I spoke commented about how much they enjoy these events, but they consistently mention one issue that could improve things — more conversation. They note that once the event is over, most of the participants talk among themselves or immediately get ready to leave. Rarely do they move around the audience and talk to the people who watched the event.   Continue reading

The Gift of Time to Watch a Baby Grandchild Learn

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.31.53 PMIf you read and write about aging — your own, your parents’ or older adults in general — you often hear people comment that as they get older, they feel that their perspective broadens. Aging adults often describe how, as they age, they have more time to observe, reflect, and  worry less about differences of opinion.

I’ve discovered the gifts of time and observation as a first-time grandparent with my new infant grandson. Although I raised my daughter through the same developmental steps that my grandson is currently passing through, I now have more flexibility to watch the way he learns things. I’m watching a mini-scientist figuring out his life, and I get to observe so many of the incremental learning steps.

Of course, I was aware of the the ways my daughter learned when she was an infant and I was a young mother — but nowadays, I have lots more time because I am no longer responsible for the big things that young parents manage in their lives — work, schools, doctor’s visits, and more. My mother, now 88, tells me that she had the same experience as a grandmother when my daughter was an infant.            Continue reading