NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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When Mom and Dad Need Extra Care

When Mom and Dad Need Extra Care



          Thanks to better nutrition, medical advances and fewer adverse health habits –such as smoking-Americans are living longer. A benefit of that increased life expectancy is that parents and offspring can expect to have long relationships, including later years when aging parents require caretaking.

          Approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of today's families provide care for aged family members. The responsibility for that care is apt to fall on aging partners and adult children who are themselves middle aged. Some early retirees may even be providing such care for their aged parents.

          No matter their age or the age of their children, parents are always important.  Parents often continue to be central figures in their children's lives during adulthood, affecting and influencing them even after their deaths.  In fact, one of the most difficult developmental issues of middle age is that of "making peace" with parents for past hurts or problems.

          To add another layer to the family dynamics, these issues often occur at the same time a middle-aged adult is dealing with adolescent children struggling to establish their independence. Both the parent and the adolescent are establishing their identity in relationship to a parent.

          Aged parents who once took care of their children often begin receiving care from their children. As parents grow old and experience major changes, such as a shrinking social world or physical deterioration, the results can be ambivalence, confusion, uncertainty, and a generally negative reaction. Everyone depends on someone. Being able to depend on others is a key characteristic of our closest and most meaningful relationships.

          While each parent/child relationship is unique, it can be described according to the distribution of power in the relationship.  Some of the most frequent ways these dynamics may play out include:

          PARENT - Adult Child:   The parent dominated the child during the child's development and continued to do so during adulthood.  The adult child will be afraid of parental anger and seeks love and approval from the controlling parent. The adult child does not feel adult, but feels dependent on more powerful figures.

          Parent - ADULT CHILD:  Both parent and adult child view the adult child as the person in control. Increased dependency of the parent can lead to role reversal.  Role reversal makes parents feel more dependent and can make adult children resentful.

          PARENT - ADULT CHILD: Both parent and adult child see each other as equals and adults.  Both are adults with mutual caring and a desire to help, without resentment.  The aging parent may have age-related dependencies and need caregiving from the adult child, but there is no role reversal.  Each person retains the original role in the family, only the helping patterns change.

          Families who remember that adults retain their adult status for life, regardless of dependencies are better prepared to navigate the years ahead.



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