September 19, 2010

USA: As parents and kids age, roles can switch

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois / Suburban Chicago Daily Herald / September 19, 2010

By Ken Potts
Daily Herald Columnist

Third of three parts

Read Second of Three Parts: Parenting married adult children presents challenges
Read First of Three Parts: Parenting young adults raises tough questions
A funny, or not so funny, thing can happen on our way through life.

As we near the end of our journey, we can become dependent on the adult children who once were dependent on us.

In the final installment in our series on parenting adult children, we'll take a look at this.

As we observed previously, we and our children continue to grow and develop throughout our adult years. As we change, so must our relationships.

One of the most dramatic changes can occur when parents enter their senior years. We'll call this Stage 3: Parenting During Our Senior Years.

In healthy family development, parents experience a period of growing independence as children enter adulthood, leave home and possibly establish families of their own.

Mom and Dad can again be husband and wife, with time to rediscover the strengths (and weaknesses) of our marriages, to spend time together traveling, etc. Single parents also have more time and resources to devote to individual interests, career goals or new relationships.

As we age, however, we all must face the inevitable limitations and losses. Retirement brings more freedom from time demands, but may also mean a marked decline in income.

We generally become more susceptible to illness, not to mention the natural losses of energy and mobility associated with physical aging.

And if our marriage has survived, we will experience the death of our spouse - and possibly the deaths of some of our older children.

One of the consequences of such life change can be our dependency, gradual or sudden, on our children. Such dependency can be emotional and relational, as our own spouse, siblings and friends die. We may increasingly turn to our children and their families for closeness and family life.

We can also become financially dependent. On a fixed income and possibly with escalating expenses in some areas such as health care, we may have no choice but to seek help from our adult children.

The bodily changes of aging and illness also can make us physically dependent. We may need help with daily tasks, including shopping, cleaning and driving, or perhaps even significant care on a daily basis. We may need to consider moving into the home of one of our adult children, a retirement center or nursing home.

A flip-flop in family roles is hard for all involved. Being self-sufficient is important to our sense of self-worth.

Aging parents will not welcome being dependent; adult children may not want yet more responsibility on top of their own needs to be spouse, parent, wage earner and/or homemaker, etc.

There are no clear-cut solutions to these potential problems. They are unique for each of us and require unique responses.

What is most important is to be aware of our thoughts and feelings about these changes, share them and work together to find the best possible solution for everyone involved.

Those have been some of the consistent themes throughout our discussion of parenting adult children.

Let's sum up by reviewing what parents can do to better relate to adult children throughout the family life cycle.

• Accept that "letting go" is part of our job as parents. We must allow our children to grow up and experience both the pain and the pleasure of being adults.

• Rediscover - or discover - our own potential for growth and development. Whether married or single, we can find self-fulfillment in a variety of ways outside of our role as parents.

• Communicate with our family about the changes that are a natural part of life together. We need to share our thoughts, feelings, wants and intentions.

• Regularly renegotiate what it means to be family. If we accept that our relationship changes as we change, then we can mutually adjust our family life to reflect that.

Relating to adult children can be a rewarding and fulfilling part of life. It requires awareness and acceptance of the changes families inevitably experience, and occasionally some hard work. Families are like that.

• The Rev. Ken Potts' new book, "Mix, Don't Blend: A Guide to Dating, Engagement, and Remarriage with Children," is available through book retailers.
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