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Successful Aging: Are some adult children overprotective in trying to shield their parents from COVI

Q: Although well meaning, my four adult children are driving my husband and me crazy because of the COVID-19 virus. They insist on checking up on us multiple times a day to see if we are OK and to remind us what we should and should not be doing. Although they are children, they are acting like helicopter parents. I recently went to a store to pick up some fabric and safely stayed in my car as the sales woman handed me the items through my car window. This created a family explosion. Is there a way I can tone down their worries and reassure them that we are fine? — S.G.

Dear S.G.: In all likelihood, your adult children are anxious and worried about your health and safety. As background, let’s look at the term “helicopter” and how it has been used over the years.

According to Parent Magazine, the term helicopter parent was first used in the 1969 book by Haim Ginott entitled “Between Parent and Teenager.” Teens said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. The term exploded in the 1990s describing boomers who had an excessive parenting style described as “over-controlling, over-protecting and over-perfecting” according to a Place for Mom blog by Kimberly Fowler.

Here are some examples of parents’ interference: Intervening when their 14-year old child has a verbal fight with a friend; arguing with a coach when their 16-year-old is not chosen to be team captain; editing or writing college essays or even accompanying a child to a job interview and negotiating salaries (no joke). When children are college students, such parents are known to call them each morning to wake them up for class and complain to professors about the grades their children received.

We have moved from having overprotective parents to having overprotective adult children who unnecessarily deprive their competent and able parents of some of their independence. Examples include taking over paying the bills when the parent is competent to do so or not allowing a parent to drive when the parent is a safe driver.

What is different now is the singular focus on a parent’s health and the COVID-19 virus. Given the mortality rate for those ages 65 and older, there is reason for alarm. According to the CDC, older people represent 80 percent of the deaths from the virus. Additionally, they have chronic health conditions. About 85 percent have at least one chronic condition and 60 percent have at least two as reported by the CDC. And then we read about the heart-breaking stories of older adults dying alone.

When adult children combine all of this information which is easily accessible in the media, it may be the first time they face a glaring statistical probability of losing a parent or grandparent should he or she contract the virus. Worry and concern seem to be fitting without becoming hysterical. It’s all about preparation.

So now, what to do. A conversation is in order. You might begin with “My dear children, we so appreciate your concern about us and love hearing from you and your brothers and sisters. Let’s talk about the best way to keep in touch.

  • Should we set a certain time to connect?

  • And how often should we chat?

  • Are you comfortable using technology such as Skype, Zoom or the telephone?

  • What worries you most about your dad and me?

Now for your part of the conversation. To reassure your children, consider describing what you are doing to remain safe and healthy, assuming you are staying at home, washing your hands and are implementing the CDC guidelines. If you are not, your children have every reason to be worried and have the right to be a nudge. Also, describe a typical day so they have a sense of your routine and activities which can be reassuring to them.

It’s also important to ask for their suggestions. They may offer valuable tips about ordering groceries, instructions on attending religious services over a video-conferencing platform, and streaming concerts and cultural events.

Enhance your conversation by sharing something — a favorite TV show, book or movie, a recipe, something you learned or discovered, anything that conveys activities that are safe, healthy and engaging. Try to avoid having your relationship defined by the virus. Finally, express your appreciation. Know your children want you around for a long time; tell them you love them, even if they call you three times a day.

Thank you S.G. for your important question. Stay safe, be well and make every day a good one.

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