Saturday, July 3, 2010

Help! My Aging Father is Going With a Much Younger Woman

How do we feel when a widowed or divorced aging parent finds a new love?
When we love our parent and we're focused on helping parents age well, what happens emotionally? Are we happy? threatened? suspicious? Now add these specifics: the father is seventy-something-years-old and his girlfriend is four years older than his devoted daughter.

This is the situation and while not the norm, it's probably not that uncommon. With the help of senior advisor, Dr. Bud, MD (psychiatrist), some information and thoughts follow.

We know this daughter's hurting. But, according to Dr. Bud, it's not her problem. "It's a problem she's going to have to deal with," he says. I like that phrasing. My instinct would have been to say "It has become her problem." Dr. Bud's response suggests there's a solution..doesn't just leave it as a problem hanging out there.

Injecting a girlfriend into a family's dynamics no doubt requires getting used to under most circumstances. But the adjustment can be tempered by the knowledge that having a girlfriend, in and of itself, should be a positive as we think about helping aging parents. It's an additional and important connection that adds, we can assume, vitality and interest to an aging father's life.

Indeed we've discussed in previous posts the fact that relationships help aging parents to stay engaged. "Social connectedness" is identified as one of the three lifestyle factors that are the most significant predictors for healthy aging,"according to the MacArthur Study on Successful Aging, (which studied people age 70-79). Further proof that relationships help parents age well.

So we ask: would the daughter's feelings be the same if the girlfriend was a more appropriate age? This age thing is a problem that's out of the ordinary scheme of things. Dr. Bud calls it "a violation of expectations." (I guess it's similar to our belief that children shouldn't die before their parents.)

Other questions we're wondering about:
  • Is she worried she may lose her father?
  • Is there concern about inheritance?
  • Is the girlfriend a "gold-digger?"
  • Does the daughter fear her father will be taken advantage of?

We will have suggestions in Tuesday's post. In the meantime you may have had--or know of someone whose had--a similar experience. Please weigh in with comments (to if the comments section doesn't work for you). A devoted daughter, who's hurting, is out there.

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Resources relating to the three lifestyle factors: social connectedness , UCLA's summary of the MacArthur Foundation report, Successful Aging

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