Is there any better feeling than knowing you’re cared for, protected, and safe? Parents thrive on ensuring their children are enveloped in the comfort of knowing their needs will be met, providing the safety net that allows them the confidence to explore the world around them. But there comes a point in all children’s lives when the yearning for independence outweighs the benefit of protection, and they have to experience firsthand what it means to stumble, fall and get back up again on their own.
These protective instincts oftentimes kick in once again for adult children towards senior parents. We want to help them minimize risks, to keep them safe from harm. But at the same time, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of overprotectiveness if we’re not careful, which can result in feelings of bitterness and resentment on the part of the elderly parents.
According to professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University Steven Zarit, “One of the scariest things to people as they age is that they don’t feel in control anymore. So if you tell your dad not to go out and shovel snow, you assume that he’ll listen. It’s the sensible thing. But his response will be to go out and shovel away … It’s a way of holding on to a life that seems to be slipping back.”
A recent study explored the impact of stubbornness in seniors’ relationships with their adult children. While the seniors were less likely to rate themselves as acting stubborn, their younger family members more often noted stubbornness as an issue. The key for adult children is in understanding their parents’ reason for digging in their heels to hold onto their independence and autonomy, and to avoid arguing and creating an attitude of defensiveness. Clear, open and honest communication between both parties can go a long way towards smoothing the waters and ensuring that each person is heard and understood.
So what’s the best way to care for our senior loved ones without trying to control them? A healthy dose of patience, respect and empathy can go a long way. Putting yourself in the senior’s shoes and understanding the need for autonomy allows adult children to step back, rather than stepping in. Allow the extra time an older adult needs to complete a task, rather than doing it for the person. Continue to seek out opportunities to show the senior you value his or her input and advice. For more tips on providing care that doesn’t cross the line, contact North River Home Care in Boston.