Dear Feeling Burdened
I am at my wits’ end because my parents just won’t do what I think would be so good for all of us. They are living in Connecticut, and my husband and I live in North Carolina with our family. Things have really changed for my parents since my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers a couple of years ago. I know that my Dad is often overwhelmed and feeling badly that he just doesn’t have the patience to really care for Mom each and every day with hardly any support. I have gone to visit and it is so obvious that they need support. I know they could get some help there but it would make so much sense for them to come here. I have mentioned it to my Dad, but he says that they don’t want to be a burden. I am feeling burdened! What is he talking about?
Dear Feeling Burdened,
It is so often the case that older parents will say to their baby boomer- aged children that they do not want to be a burden. Over the many years of working with countless families in somewhat similar circumstances, I have heard loud and clear from the parents, “We do not want to be a burden. We know that our children have their own lives and we don’t want to change their lives.”
When I speak with the adult children, they say, “My mother and father just don’t get it. Being in proximity or at a distance doesn’t really change it up that much if they won’t let us in. We are trying to say to them that it is burdensome not knowing. The not knowing is beyond burdensome. The created lack of access to be helpful is burdensome. If only they would ask me to do something. I want to do something. I feel so helpless.”
This is the essence of the disconnect between older parents and their adult children when it comes to finding a new balance in their relationship that has traditionally been in the direction of parents to children. One’s parents will always be one’s parents. The adult children will always be the children. However, the direction of attention, concern and desire to be helpful may have changed in certain ways. Reciprocity is key to having older parents begin to listen to your concerns, thoughts, ideas, desires and advice. Having a conversation in which the parent and child share what is truly happening in one another’s lives and how they imagine
being there for one another is so necessary. There must be a way for the parent to continue to feel of value. There must be a way for the adult child to be of value. We all need to be valued.
Think about the possibility of starting the conversation that you want to have by reaching out to your parent from the direction of wanting their input on something personal or professional. By doing so, you are establishing a level playing field. They have the opportunity to provide you with their ideas and you can acknowledge their sage wisdom. This is not manipulation. It is true and genuine communication. Once it is established that they have given of themselves to you, then you may want to let them know that there is another way that you need them. Let them know that you are feeling a desire to be closer to them in more than one way...not just geography. At this time in your life it would be so meaningful for you to be a part of their day-to-day lives. You can explain that it would be a gift to you if they would engage in a conversation about the pros and cons of moving closer to you.
For most adult children, even those living near parents, this same advice is given. It is always more effective to make your desire known as “an I message” rather than “a you message.” Say, “I need you to consider doing this and that because it means such and such to me.” What is often done but not recommended is the adult child stating something like, “Because you are no longer able to do this and that, you should just let me do such and such.” That’s one quick way to have a parent put up a protective roadblock. You have now gone in a direction that, in essence, puts them in a corner. Understandably, they will defend!
So try this out. Wishing you all the goodness that can come when parent and child can be genuine with one another.