My grandmother arrived for Thanksgiving dinner in a depressed state after stopping first to visit her former neighbor in a nursing home. She regularly spoke about her neighbor and was upset at how infrequently the woman’s children came to visit her. The fact that it was a holiday was no exception; the children were a no-show. As I recall, the neighbor was a negative and critical person, and I wasn’t surprised that her children kept their distance from her although it was a sad situation. When you have a big heart, it is easy to become angry that adult children do not appear to be as caring as you think they should be toward their parents. It is best to reserve judgement when you are a professional caregiving, however, unless you are really familiar with all sides of the story.
There is a double standard that younger people often apply to the aging when it comes to judging personalities or behavior. I have written about double standards in favor of seniors before: “Double Standard or is it a Triple Standard?” It is common for younger people to look at a silver-haired senior and refer to them as “cute.” (Although many consider that label to be demeaning, keep in mind it isn’t meant to be negative by the people who say it; rather, the user of the term is stating that they find the older person endearing or charming.) This is sometimes a judgment based solely on appearances, but the fact is, the aging person in front of you could be one of the meanest people you have ever met. You do not necessarily know how they have treated others throughout their lives, especially their children. Their children might not find them to be cute nor endearing. Their children might look at them and remember a lot of hurtful or unsupportive things their parents have said over the years. There might be one child who is ill-favored by the elder and is not treated with affection or appreciation when he visits. Sometimes adult children have valid reasons for not wanting to spend time with their aging parents.
When I was working in a skilled nursing home, there were residents with devoted children, and people whose children visited rarely. In some cases distance was a factor for those adult children who did not come often. In other cases I did not know why their kids never came by. Some residents had sharp tongues and possibly spoke that way to their children as well as to the staff. On the other hand, some residents were so sweet that it was difficult to imagine why their children stayed away. Unless I saw outright neglect, I tried not to judge. Yet, even in cases where I felt the children could stand to be more loving and giving, I reminded myself that the children arranged for them to be in an excellent nursing home filled with staff who could provide the care that they could not or would not do themselves. Becoming upset over someone else’s family dynamics wasn’t going to do me or the residents any good. My job was to help each aging person be engaged in life and to shower them with love.
Every person has a history and unless you are intimately familiar with their story, it is best not to concern yourself with the relationship with the children unless they are truly abusive. Is it possible an adult child is spoiled and self-centered? Definitely. Is it possible the elder did a poor job raising her children and is now seeing the result in spoiled, self-centered adult children? Absolutely. Is it possible the aging person was a perfect parent and still managed to raise a spoiled, self-centered adult? Yes. As a caregiver you do not always know the back story so simply provide the best support that your client needs. You might be providing love the person has never known, or healing an undeserved broken heart. You are making a profound difference in their life; don’t let the rest of the drama touch you or weigh down your thoughts.