Saturday, March 26, 2011

Aging Parents: Ornery, Difficult, Unappreciative?

Aging parents' dispositions can be put on a bell curve: pleasure-producing dispositions at one end, pain-producing at the other.
Bell Curve: Parents' Disposition

Unfortunately pain-producing is the norm for some aging parents. They are demanding, critical, never satisfied.  Adult children living near-by usually bear the brunt of this no-win situation which seems to offer no easy way out.
While changing behavior is difficult, understanding the concepts below can help aging parents and adult children untangle themselves:1.  Back to childhood.
2.  Families cater to the most neurotic members.

3.  Tolerating disrespect, reinforces it.
4.  The family is like a mobile.
We begin with Concepts #1 and #2 and conclude on Tuesday with Concepts #3 and #4. But first meet Jean.
Jean is a stay-at-home mom in her 50's. She's married, with two school-age children, two siblings--and an aging mother and father-in-law who "run her ragged" and show no appreciation. Her brothers work in downtown offices thus, are unavailable on weekdays; so parents "know" the boys are “off limits” (although they do help out on weekends when asked).
Being a good daughter, on a weekly basis, Jean has transported these parents (who drive but sometimes "don't feel like it"), cleaned (they manage to fire every cleaning person Jean finds for them), and she spends countless hours on the phone with them (they phone daily--at the least--when they have nothing else to do).  Jean cooks and delivers meals--or invites them to dinner--when they don't feel like cooking, takes them to doctors' appointments and lays out and explains their medications (which they don’t always take).
She's at their beck and call, wearing herself to a frazzle as she dashes between Little League, swim meets, music lessons, grocery shopping, house cleaning, dinner fixing etc. etc.  Her husband, most patient and caring, is showing a bit of resentment.  Jean's parents are relatively young and he envisions this situation going on forever.
#1. Back to childhood.  Parents and children establish patterns of behavior way back; it's difficult to break old patterns.  If children were always expected to cater to their parents, the pattern--the game so to speak--has been well established. The parents are accustomed to being catered to by their children.  Those are--and have been--the game rules over many years, evidently never renegotiated.
In addition, children, regardless of age, are always their parents' children. (Many disagree with adult children saying they become parents to their parents--I'm one, but that's another post.) It's common for children to want to please parents.  And they usually feel responsibility if catering to a parent was an expectation or a duty from early on.
#2.  Years ago, while doing research for my divorce book, a priest told me that families cater to the most neurotic member, something he had learned this during training in social work.  Undoubtedly some impossible parents are/were neurotic and have experienced a lifetime of being catered to.
We try to help parents age well.  It involves helping them to maintain legitimate independence and, in this case, involves extricating their adult children from a difficult, thankless, possibly manipulative situation. Tuesday's post, with concepts #3 and #4, provides understandings and strategies to make this happen.

Visit my other site:     More resources and information

No comments:

Post a Comment