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.