What a week. A sobbing 14 year-old girl whom I, admittedly, barely know was taken from her high school on Monday to be sent away from home for two months for rehabilitation.

She has been experimenting with marijuana and bad behavior. She’s also a good student suffering from depression. She is hungry for affection from friends and their families because she does not receive it in her own home. From my limited perspective the parents overreacted. Something needed to be done to help the girl but two months in a wilderness camp seemed extreme. I worried and prayed for her safety and her spirit. As it turned out, the parents returned her to school after two days’ absence with a host of new restrictions. Love and spending quality time with her do not appear to be part of the new plan. (And, yes, I’m quite aware that I am being judgmental.)

What does this have to do with caregiving or aging? A lot, actually. It is entirely possible this girl will come out of her childhood with nothing but love and gratitude for her parents because they turned her around. It is also entirely possible she will come out of this experience with resentment toward them that will last for a lifetime. If the latter scenario is the case, they might eventually become estranged from each other and she ultimately might be an absentee adult child when her aging parents need care. Caregivers and those who will have only known the parents as aging people will not know the back story. They may judge the daughter and consider her heartless and undutiful.

It is so easy for a newcomer to meet older people at a time in their lives when they are fragile and be oblivious to the family history. The family history, however, can justifiably dominate current and future family relationships.

Children who have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, may develop a healthy separation from their parents. For those adult children, parental care may be limited to making sure a parent’s needs are met financially, with assistance provided by hired help. Others will not be able to provide even that much care. In the saddest but not uncommon scenarios, other adult children will become abusive to their parents. As they were taught, so did they learn. In the case of the young girl I mentioned, she may learn that the easiest way to handle difficult people in life, is to scream at them and let other people meet he parents’ need for love. Would we really be able to blame her?

As a mother of four children, I hope my children will look after my care, directly or indirectly, if I am fortunate enough to live a long life. I have spent two decades so far building a strong and loving relationship with them. I am blessed because we actually enjoy one another’s company.  But if I had been neglectful of them, or worse, abusive to them, I would not be entitled to their care in my aging years.

Sometimes parents take for granted that they are entitled to respect, that they are entitled to devotion. They are not entitled to anything.

Relationships with adult children and their parents are a two-way street. I know some of you will vehemently disagree with me based on your cultural or religious views. I respect that and I hope it works out for you and your family. But some people will not honor religious or cultural rules at the expense of self-preservation. That is their right. Others of you will argue that you have children or know of children who had perfect upbringings but they are ungrateful and spoiled. That assessment is definitely true in some cases. With the blessing of free will even our children can make choices in the wrong direction. But the best choice for parents is to love their children. We have to truly love them if we want to receive love from them. The just, and still loving, disciplinarian. Not only will we be creating loving humans, we may be investing in the future quality of our own aging care.

Please share this with someone you know who would appreciate this topic.

4 thoughts on “Our parenting can determine the quality of our aging

  1. This is very apt for me. I have been struggling alone with my late mum and now dads care for three years. Dad gave us no affection and i was frightened of him until i was over fifty

    Now i have been his guardian etc. because of illness and the stress the care home is causing by not considering the family at all…only the patient…i am dropping down from my responsibilities. The carehome seem to thing they know my dad after eighteen months. They can deal with him now

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    1. Wow, what a difficult situation you have been put in. I’m sorry to hear the care home was not inclusive of you when you were trying to care for someone from a difficult relationship. I hope they do provide for him well but it’s a shame that they cannot recognize the value of what you mean to him, even if he does not fully realize it. In the United States the caregiver is becoming a focal point of the patient’s care. I hope you can check up on him once in a while to make sure they really are taking good care of hime.

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  2. Hi Kim – This post is spot on! I met a few people who were estranged from their children and when they told me stories about their families, I could see why! One woman had three children who wanted nothing to do with her. Only later I learned that she sent them back to their father after her divorce because it was hard for her to meet men with three kids in tow. Another woman was struggling with getting around her house and I was surprised that her kids didn’t seem to care. She told me about a time when her daughter had broken up with her live-in boyfriend and asked her if she could stay with her until she found a place. She said NO because it would be inconvenient to her. She lived in a four bedroom home. Not surprising that her daughter didn’t step up when she needed more care.

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