How adult children respond to aging parents, and how you can help them
I just returned from finally visiting my grandchildren in Idaho. It was a great visit, but I don’t think they understand that at 82 years, I cannot do quite as much running around as I did years ago. As they are having a difficult time accepting that I am aging, I too am having the same problem with my own aging. Slowing down really bothers me. Any tips for my children and for me? N.N.
Let’s start with your children. Adult children often take one of two positions regarding their older parents. They are over-concerned or dismiss the fact their parents are getting older. One family mentioned to me that during the height of the pandemic, all four of their children called them daily, grilling them about their activities. The parents acknowledged their children’s concern was out of love, but nonetheless, they said, “It was a bit much.” In a sense, the adult children were acting as helicopter children to their parents.
In contrast, adult children often have not modified their expectations from their parents. Their advanced years can be frightening; a reminder that all life is mortal and that at some point parents will exit the planet. Dismissing aging as a reality may be a comfortable way of coping.
One approach to help your children understand your position is to have a conversation with them, one of reassurance letting them know that you are doing all you can do to stay healthy and fit, both physically and mentally, that slowing down is normal and typically not a sign of illness. Of course, that means you actually are paying attention to maintain your physical and mental health and overall fitness.
So now let’s move on to accepting one’s own aging. HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit organization presenting evidenced-based information suggests several ways to cope with age-related changes.
Be grateful: The longer we live and the larger we live, the more we can lose. At the same time, the life we experience can become more precious. As we emerge from the pandemic, we may be more appreciative of the small things – being with friends, enjoying the outdoors without a mask, going out for lunch or dinner, previously considered as just part of our daily lives.
Accept change: Most of us like some element of control over our lives. We soon learn that what we have is influence and, on occasion, some control. The only thing we can control is our reaction to situations and problems. There is the well-known motto from Alcoholics Anonymous: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Find the upside: A positive attitude counts. Studies indicate a positive attitude towards aging leads to living a longer life. Beca Levy, Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University found that those with a positive outlook lived seven and half years longer than those without such an attitude. Furthermore, that number is double the benefit of maintaining a healthy weight (which is a good idea to do as well, of course).
Keep a sense of humor: Humor can improve our physical health by strengthening our immune system, enhancing our mood, relieving pain and decreasing stress hormones – as well as playing a role in preventing heart disease. Having a sense of humor also increases our mental health by improving our mood, relieving stress and strengthening our resilience. The best part – it’s free and easy to access.
Realistically, age is a risk factor. It certainly is for the coronavirus and other diseases as well as frailty. What we need to remember is that we are not victims of aging. We are empowered to slow down the aging process and to avoid the risk factors for disease and disability. There are no guarantees. Yet we can adopt a lifestyle that increases the probability of living a long and healthy life.
N.N. sharing the feeling of empowerment with your children while acknowledging that yes, with age, many of us slow down a bit may ease their expectations while assuring them that you indeed are doing everything possible to age well. And if you aren’t – this might be a good reminder.
Thank you for your good question. Wishing you many more wonderful visits with your family with the modified energy you need and the empowerment to age well.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity