Dr. Kerry Burnight, Ph.D. - Love Them Well: What your aging parents wish you knew

As a gerontologist and daughter of an elder who lives alone,  I’m always looking for ways to maximize joy and connection. In the pandemic, this is more important than ever. I’ve seen thousands of well-meaning daughters and sons inadvertently cause conflict by trying to “help” their parents without awareness of their parent’s preferences.

Each time I hear an adult daughter or son say that they are now the parent, I cringe. That mindset is a recipe for disaster. The last thing any human wants is to be patronized. Your parents are still the parents. By listening and putting ourselves in our parents shoes, we begin to understand how to connect and how to find joy.

How do you tap into an elder’s inner world? Clearly, every older person is unique. In fact, we become more like ourselves as we get older, and therefore, more unique. Despite our differences, there is agreement on some common things older parents wish their adult children knew.

What your aging parents wish you knew

  1. Even if we don’t say it, we appreciate your time - especially peaceful, unrushed time. We feel seen when you give us your undivided attention.
  2. Don’t try to fix everything or lecture us. Let us be frustrated, or irritated, or sad. Knowing we can express these feelings to you takes the load off.
  3. Please try to remember that we live with pain. Physical pain (like arthritis) and emotional pain (like losing a spouse). We try to minimize it to you.
  4. Don’t force us to use technology designed for 20 year-olds, it’s fraught with problems. There are solutions designed for seniors, that have all the functions with none of frustrations.
  5. When you see us doing something admirable, point it out. Appreciate our strength and ability. Society paints us as obsolete. We are not. We are resilient problem solvers, if only you’ll see us.
  6. Show us you are thinking of us. Plan something to look forward to, find a special book and explain why you picked it, bring over or send something that is personal between us.
  7. Don’t try to wrap us in bubble wrap so “nothing bad will happen to us.”  We are adults and we have the right to make our own decisions;  even if you don’t agree with them.
  8. If we should forget something, or repeat ourselves,  your patience and respect matter now more than ever. There is so much more to us than just memory or quick cognition.

Finding joy in our everyday lives is one of the keys to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. As we focus upon ways to protect our well-being, connection, and purpose, let’s not forget about the elders who paved the way for us in life.


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