Friends Serve One Another

One of my fondest memories of friendship came out of a time when Paula and I were hurting the most.   We were at home, both of us recovering from physical setbacks.

I had been in the hospital with pneumonia two nights before and the day before Paula had miscarried our first child in that same hospital.    So we were not only hurting physically, but our hearts were broken.

It was a Sunday and I ordinarily would have been at church to fulfill my responsibilities, but both of us were in no shape to go anywhere.    Shortly after noon someone knocked on our little apartment door and it was a family from our church, mom and dad with four of their children in our youth ministry.   With compassionate smiles and hands full of food and a fruit basket they came in and served us.    We have never forgotten that act of kindness.

Why did they do this?  They were our friends.   And that is what friends do: they serve each other.

Likewise, a healthy marriage has two people that are serving each other consistently.

Several years ago Paula had surgery and was debilitated for a while.   I took a week off from work to stay at home and just waited on her.   She rested on the couch and we watched videos together.  I took care of her meals (I didn’t cook, but bought food!).   It was a sweet time for me to serve her.

But more important than a focused time of serving when she is down is just being aware on a daily basis of my calling to be her servant.   Jesus called me to “nourish and cherish” my wife (Ephesians 5:29).   At the heart of that is serving and caring.

It’s easy to take advantage of people that are good to you.   It’s also easy to overlook how good they are, until the benefit is gone and you realize, too late, what a treasure you had in that person.

Jesus was a friend to His disciples and called them friends (John 15:14).   On the night before He was crucified He washed their feet, a dirty, humbling task which only the lowest servant was assigned to do.   Now He tasks us to do the same – to serve each other in humble and quiet ways, because we love each other.   Because we are friends.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”   (John 13:14-15)

The work of the gospel in our hearts brings a genuine humility and willingness to want to serve, to put others before our own selves, and to love as Christ has loved us.    Christianity is best seen in relationships and the most basic relationship is that of the husband and wife. 

Friends serve one another.   And a good marriage has two people that are conscious of the needs of the other – and do their best to meet that need.

Don’t wait until the one you love is gone before you realize how much you cared for them – and you have regrets for not serving them well.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving”.   (Amy Carmichael)

Posted in Building a family, Christ-centered marriage, close family, Family Issues, friendship, Giving, Growing marriage, Marriage, Married and Friends, regrets, Selfishness, serving | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Comfort of a Friend

A strong marriage has at the core a relationship that is defined by a healthy friendship. If one can learn and apply the characteristics of a friendship then that relationship will be stronger, happier and deeper.

One of the qualities of friends is that they comfort each other in times of sorrow and grief.

“…Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.” (Genesis 38:12)    We see here that Judah was comforted in the death of his wife by his friend, Hirah.

This is seen in marriage when after Isaac’s mother, Sarah, had died that his wife, Rebekah, brought comfort to him in his grief.

“And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”   (Genesis 24:67)

The same expression is also used of Joseph comforting his brothers after the death of their father, Jacob (Genesis 50:21).    It is one way that love expresses itself.

The word “comfort” in these verses has the idea of “consoling, expressing pity, and having mercy”.

When genuine heartfelt empathy is communicated it strengthens a relationship.

Aristotle said that a friend was “a single soul dwelling in two bodies”.   I like this picture of friendship.  Part of the soul dynamic is the urgency and yearning to communicate comfort because someone you love is hurting.

There are three types of burdens people carry.   First, are personal responsibilities (Galatians 6:5).   While they can get uncomfortable sometimes and seem cumbersome, they are our own burden.  Second, burdens we cannot carry alone and need the help of other people (Galatians 6:2).   The third category are burdens so heavy that no human can help us, only God can carry them (Psalm 55:22).

It is in the second level where God uses people to bring comfort to us in our most difficult seasons – and we never forget these people.

This is the kind of friend Titus was to Paul – “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus”.  (II Corinthians 7:6)

Since a good marriage has the elements of friendship in it, part of that involves burden-bearing and comforting during times of sorrow.

When I was in college someone impatiently knocked at my dorm door and told me there was an emergency call.   (We only had one phone on the hall).  I hurried to the phone and it was my best friend back home.   He shared that his grandmother had died.  Though I was 100 miles away, he didn’t call his pastor or a relative to share his broken heart; he called his friend for comfort in that moment.   We reach out to friends when we are hurting; or at least, we want to.

I experienced the most difficult thing in my life when I was thirteen years old – my grandfather died.  We were very close; I am named after him.   It was devastating for me.   The day of the funeral I sat on the front pew in the funeral home as friends walked by the coffin for the final viewing after the service (as we did in the early 1970’s).   My emotions numb until I saw my childhood friend and his family walk in front of me.   As I saw the look of sadness in the eyes of my friend my tears began to flow.

Today, I still remember that compassionate look from my friend. Almost twenty years later his grandfather passed and I made sure to be there for him.

That is what friends do.   They show up and comfort, sometimes without saying a word, but just their presence and a hug communicates compassion and helps to lift our burden a bit.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”  (Helen Keller)

I have a friend who is a pastor and was going through some very difficult times with a staff member.    After the staff member left because of some personal problems he began to say things about this pastor and twisted them, leaving out parts that would explain why some decisions had been made.  Because the staff member was well-loved my pastor friend took some criticism.   He wanted to defend himself, but felt like it would hurt the family of the disgruntled employee, so he kept quiet and took the brunt of some hurtful comments.

After a couple of weeks, one evening, very discouraged, he sat down on the couch feeling alone and misunderstood.   He told me that his wife came in a few minutes later and sat down by him and without saying a word just held his hand for a long time.  It was one of the most meaningful times of encouragement he had ever had.   His friend had comforted him.

That is what a healthy marriage looks like.  Each will comfort the other.   Because they are friends.

Invest in your marriage.  Find out where your husband or wife is hurting, grieving or sorrowing and comfort them.  After all, they are your friend.

Posted in adversity, bearing burdens, comfort, Family Issues, Friends, friendship, grief, Mercy, pain, sorrow, Strong Marriage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendship and Marriage

One of the keys to a happy marriage is to have the same ingredients in the relationship that are present in a friendship. The love story given in the Song of Solomon reflects this when the bride refers to her husband as she talks to her friends – “…This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song of Solomon 5:16)

Part of the simplicity of the relationship in the honeymoon phase of marriage is that it is characterized by the freshness of friendship love. The qualities of friendship will enhance any marriage. In fact, if you have a better friend than your husband or wife, your marriage is in trouble!

When Israel strayed from God, God told his preacher, Jeremiah to, “…Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals…”  (Jeremiah 2:2)    They had gotten away from their “first love” they had for the Lord.  It had become stale, predictable and lost the kindness that once defined it.

Have you noticed that many times people treat their friends better than their family members?  Oh, they still love their family, but not like they used to.  One of the causes of the decline is that the qualities that formerly caused them to be friends have declined.

When we assume upon what it means to be a friend and enjoy the benefits, but fail to take the time to consider what it means to be a friend, we cannot restore what is missing when those qualities are not present.

What are the characteristics that mark a friendship?  Friends do behave in certain ways.

For example, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly…” (Proverbs 18:24)

God speaks to the matter of friendship in the Bible so that we can be better friends . These traits and responsibilities can be applied to our families as well.  They deepen our joy and help us to build a stronger relationship.

Yes, I know above all that marriage is a covenant and is based on unconditional love.   Those truths are foundational to a lasting and happy marriage above all.  But I also know that when I met Paula that we were friends before we were husband and wife. And I have treasured that aspect of our relationship and missed it when we let some part of it slide.

One of the greatest joys and blessings of life is to have good friends. Even better is it to have a mate that is your dearest friend and to have your children to become your friends.    I believe our failure to understand the dynamics of friendship causes us to some degree to forfeit the intimacy and joy God wants us to experience in our family.

In the next several posts I’ll share some of these qualities. I hope that they will encourage and strengthen the friendship aspect of your relationship with your family members.

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Mid-Life Relationships between Parents and Children: Friendship

In recent months I wrote two birthday cards to my children within a month of each other.   I didn’t realize it until I had finished signing the second card and reading it again that I had included a similar thought in the one I had given a few weeks earlier.

After sharing some of the memories and personal things I admired and appreciated about them, I included this line: “Best of all, now we are friends”.  

I can’t remember the time when this happened, when I became friends with my children, but I know that it did.   The same thing happened between me and my parents, too.

As I write this my dear mother is 80 years old and I count her as a friend.   I’m 60 and so when we get together our conversations are more often centered around themes of friendship than parent and child.

This is one of the best parts of growing older: the transition in the relationship with our parents when they become our friends.    As we begin to experience firsthand the trials of raising our own children, we realize what we put our mom and dad through in each stage of parenting.

The helpless and needy infant, the rowdy and curious toddler, the increasing independence of preschool and school-age years, and the challenging whitewater teenage years each have unique stresses.

When you are the child you are too immature to know the stresses of parents doing their best.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “We never know the love of a parent til we become parents ourselves”.                         

What happens in the heart of an adult child to help facilitate a desire to connect with their aging parents as friends?    Let me suggest three key awakenings that occur that expedite this transition in the relationship.

  • As we grow older we become more grateful for our parents.   The frustrations and challenges of parenting are now ours –  the financial and time involvement, the sacrifice of energy and putting your own interests aside to meet their needs.   One day it settles in on you, “My parents did this for me and I had no idea of how much it cost them”. 

In the early stages of a parent-child relationship gratitude is largely non-existent, because of the nature of a child receiving more than giving from their parent.

The Apostle Paul referenced this when he rebuked the church at Corinth for their selfish attitude toward him evidenced by their failure to be thankful for how he had sacrificed on their behalf.

“…for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”   (II Corinthians 12:14-15)

But at some point, there is a tipping point where aging parents receive appreciation (hopefully) from their children for their patience and sacrifices when they were younger.

When it came time to select a best man for my wedding I had a number of dear friends to choose from – or my brother, whom I have often said is my best friend.   But I didn’t have to think about it long at all.

One of the most special conversations I ever had with my father was the evening when I asked him if he would be the best man in my wedding.   I wanted him to be in that role because of what he meant to me.   As a 21 year old young man I better understood some of what he had sacrificed for me and, for me, it was right for him to be there.

Years later, my brother did the same thing; he asked dad to be his best man in his wedding.

Dad with Hoss on the day of his wedding. I love this picture because
of the joy on both of their faces. These are my two best friends.

Gratitude for your parents will birth a closer relationship, even friendship.

Jordan, April, Paula and I at formal night on a cruise.

  • As we become older we become more interested in the heritage of our family.    Questions are asked that were never considered before when we were younger.

Several of my children have gotten very interested in their history and what made them who they are.   (I went through the same thing when I was their age.   My great grandfather was alive during key times in history and I wish I could have gotten more information from him).

My dad loved to tell stories about his growing up, the people he knew and the experiences that had marked his family, for good or bad.   The older I became, the more important this was to me.

About ten years ago I was in Arkansas with my mom, we visited her birthplace and the places of her early childhood.   I was totally fascinated.

We visited a little country church on an isolated road with a small cemetery behind it.   The last time I was there was around 1967 for the funeral of my great grandfather.   I sat beside my grandfather in the little church for the service as he grieved the death of his father.   It was one of the few times I had ever seen him in a church building.   I loved him dearly; I was named after him.

Mom had instructed me to hold his hand during the service.  She knew it would mean something to him.  As I reflect on that event, I know how much it would have meant to me to have my grandson to do the same for me.

I hadn’t been to that church or the cemetery in almost 50 years.   Incredibly the doors were open – all of them.   I went inside and sat in the same pew as where I had sat as a little boy with my grandfather.   (I still remembered).   We went outside and saw the grave of my great grandfather and I rehearsed the events of that day.

I saw the post office where my grandfather worked.   Where my mom lived as a girl, though the house was no longer there.   All of that day was a wonderful experience for me.

Older parents are more eager to share these things not only because they are important to them, but they know their days are limited and they would like for their children to appreciate them to some degree.

Recently I told my sister that in the past several years I had noted that my mother talked more than usual when we were together.   Not just about the weather or common things, but about important things.   Friends that had shaped her life, our heritage, her feelings and beliefs.

Friends listen to each other and it is a sacred privilege for me to listen to my mom.   One day her voice will be silent and I’ll wish to hear it again.

  • As we become older we are confronted with the need of forgiveness to heal past wounds and misunderstandings.   Both parent and child will need to offer and seek forgiveness as both sides have made mistakes.

When we are young our parents are our heroes, but as we grow older we begin to see their flaws.  Mom and Dad are gradually removed from their pedestal of respect.   Soon their good qualities are not remembered because of hurt and disappointment from unmet expectations.   Bitterness and anger begins to eat away at what was once a close relationship.

When forgiveness is granted from both, a friendship can be established that is treasured for the rest of our days.   But if not, failure to forgive and restore will result in destruction in your relationship.

I’ve never wanted to disappoint my parents, even though I have, but now as a senior adult I want much more than to just avoid being a disappointment.   I want to be a friend to my mother and to enjoy her friendship.   (My dad went to Heaven years ago).

Several years ago I received a birthday card from my mom and I have kept it on an end table where I study so I can read it occasionally.

“For my son, my gift.   From the first time I held you I knew you would be something special.   And you are – not just to me, but to everyone who knows you.  You’re kind and funny and generous and caring…and I’m so proud of you.   You’re a great son, a tremendous blessing and a wonderful gift to the world. 

Happy birthday with so much love, Your Mom.

Rick, I am very proud and thankful for my three children.  I can’t go anywhere (almost) that people ask me about Hoss, Melanie, and you.   We’ve had a wonderful time as a family from the tiny four room house with no washer or dryer to all we have now.  I am so blessed.    Silver and gold, I have very little, but family and friends are my greatest possessions.

In the rest of your years never forget the little four room house on the corner.  God has been gracious to us over and over.   AMEN and AMEN.   HAPPY BIRTHDAY.”

I’m glad that as an old man now, that my mom is my friend.

On the afternoon we were to greet friends at the funeral home when my father died I went an hour early before my family did.  I asked those assisting with the funeral if I could have a chair to sit by my father’s coffin during that time.

Though I knew he wasn’t there and was in Heaven I wanted to be there alone for a while, while it was quiet.  I recounted scores of special memories we had shared personally and as a family.   I rehearsed lessons he had taught me and words he had said to me.   It was our final goodbye on earth.

Though I highly respected and loved him as my father; I also was thankful that we had been friends.

Dad with Melanie and myself when he was inducted in the Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.
into the Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.

Posted in Aging parents, Bitterness, close family, familiy issues, Family Issues, Mid-life issues, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mid-Life Relationships between Parents and Children: Role-Reversal

Over the dresser in our bedroom is a picture of Paula and myself that I look at every now and then and wonder, “What ever happened to that guy?” 

While my bride has discovered the fountain of youth, I see the toll of the years on my face, and my full and dark brown hair is now thinning and turning gray.

I’m slower to get out of bed in the morning, too.

Now I qualify for a senior adult coffee at most fast food places and get the full breakfast discount at IHOP.   A while back I got coffee and the lady just rung up the discount without my asking.    I wasn’t offended at all; seniority has privileges.

One of the more difficult parts of growing older has been watching my parents go through some struggles.   One of these is the “reversal of the roles”.   Times when an aging parent met the needs of their child in ways their mom and dad formerly did for them.

My parents raised us in a secure environment which was an incredible gift.  Part of that relationship was they freely gave to me, my sister and brother and gave far more to us than we will ever give to them and did so without hesitation.

Now, Dad is gone and Mom needs us more than we need her in some ways.   It’s hard for her to be dependent, though she has to be.

To be transparent, even in my mid-life years, I enjoyed the sense of security I derived from the strength of my parents.  Their counsel, encouragement, affirmations and their mere presence was important to me as an adult. 

My beloved father has gone on to be with the Lord and my mom now needs me more than ever.   When this aspect of our relationship began to change it was a little unsettling to me.   Perhaps it reminded me of me own mortality, but more so I didn’t realize how much I “needed” the strength of my parents.

Here’s a simple truth: as we age, we become more dependent.   This process is not only difficult for parents, but for sons and daughters as well.

As an adult child in mid-life there is an awkwardness of having to now be the “stronger one”.    I am just entering the season of being a senior adult and occasionally having my children to care for me and it is humbling.


I love to take my mom to lunch. She has aged gracefully.

In my relationship with my adult children I have been the rock that they could run to for words of encouragement and assistance.  Now, there are often times when they provide the support for me.

I have a debilitating illness that sometimes causes me to be discouraged.   One afternoon I was going through an especially difficult time and my oldest son, Jeremiah, called and asked me to go somewhere with him.

While we talked, he began to encourage me and strengthen me with his words and a biblical perspective.  It meant the world to me.  What I had done for him hundreds of times he now did for me in a time of great need.

This is our legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have another son and daughter through marriage into our family and two grandchildren. The window of opportunity is small to make a difference. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

Mid-life years are also characterized by having to say good-bye to those we love deeply.  This includes not only our parents, but our close friends as death begins to call.    (Of course, there are those wonderful new relationships we have, our grandchildren, at this time in life!).

But in a normal lifetime, before we say our good-byes, there is a precious opportunity for us to show our love and respect to our parents for all they have done for us. 

This is difficult for both of us.  Mom and Dad despise the growing weakness and having to depend on others.  Their children are more busy than ever with their growing families and their time is at a premium.

But this tender connection and the sacrifice offered during this time is a sacred gift to the aging parent.   It is an opportunity to fulfill a small portion of what our parents have done for us when were young.

Remember, as the years pass, mid-life parents will inevitably become senior parents.    How we treat our elderly parents is instructive to our younger children as to how they will treat us one day. 

One of my favorite song-writers, Steve Chapman, crafted a lyric in one of his songs that describes this period of life called “Trading Places”.

“Trading Places”

“It’s cold outside, put on your sweater;

Take your medicine, it’ll help you feel better.

These were Mama’s words so long ago;

I hear them again, I hear them echo.

O, but this time they come from me,

Every time I go to see her;

Yesterday I helped her tie her laces,

Then I realized,

We’re a mother and child, trading places.


Let’s cross the street, take hold of my hand;

When we’re in the store, stay close as you can.

When Mama said these words, love was the reason.

Still it is love, whenever she hears them.

O, but this time they come from me,

Every time I go to see her;

Yesterday I helped her tie her laces,

Then I realized,

We’re a mother and child, trading places.


And if my time goes on,

I know there’ll come a day

When it will be my turn

To hear my children say

It’s cold outside, put on your sweater;

Take your medicine, it’ll help you feel better.

These were Mama’s words so long ago;

I hear them again, I hear them echo.





Posted in Aging parents, bearing burdens, familiy issues, Family Issues, Mid-life issues, Parenting, Senior adult issues | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mid-Life Children and Senior Parents

There are a lot of jokes made about a midlife crisis, but there’s nothing funny about the challenges an aging parent and a son or daughter experience in these years.   There are difficult and delicate situations unique to this season of life between parent and mid-life son or daughter

The previous post dealt with how parents sometimes feel towards their children when Dad and Mom are in mid-life years.  Now let’s flip the context.

Children’s Feelings Towards Parents at Mid-Life

Here are a few struggles adult children sometimes experience during their mid-life years with senior parents.

  • “I’m worried about your financial decisions”.  There is an entire industry that is centered on taking advantage of the elderly . Couple that with a susceptibility that sometimes accompanies those that are older and it is a recipe for disaster.

I know of a situation where an unscrupulous contractor gave a bid on a job for a senior, collected his fee from a personal check, and never returned to do the work.  The check was cashed and was written for over $20,000.   It created a nightmare for the family to try and recover the money, both with time and paying attorneys.

Those in their senior years are targeted by crooked organizations soliciting money to support “noble” causes, at least in name.   And again, multiple checks are written to support these “charities”.    I know personally where this has happened.

This is difficult for mid-life sons and daughters to watch happen.

Because we honor our parents we respect their privacy and autonomy.  This creates a tension between their independence and our wanting to help them make wise financial choices when they may be vulnerable.

Of course, not all senior adults have this problem.   I don’t mean to broad brush; but it is a problem for many.

Christmastime with my sweet Mom!

Another concern that often surfaces…..

  • “I’m worried about your health”.     As we age disease or illness become our companions.   Pain becomes a part of life and it’s more difficult to walk and do the things one used to do.

My parents rarely went to the doctor through the first twenty years of my marriage, but that began that change in my forties.   Now, my Mom will go to the doctor a couple of times a month.    We have regular conversations about her health we never had years before.

Some of my friends (all of them in their mid-life years) have had the sad experience of helping an aging parent through Altzheimers disease.  One friend wept often with me as his mother battled this terrible disease.

One day I visited a friend in his office and on his desk was a book about dementia. He was reading it to help one of his parents.    Some attend classes to help equip them for this new season of life as they assist their parents.

We never think of having to research and learn about these issues in our 20’s or 30’s.   But this is a reality for many in the mid-life stage.   It not only affects the parents, but also the children.

Others have experienced a parent getting lost while driving and not being able to navigate their way home.    No one knows where they are; they don’t know where they are.   It’s frightening for everyone.

Mom and Dad at Opryland Hotel on one of his bus trips. This was one of their favorite places to go. This picture was taken about 10 months before Dad’s stroke.

Some would feel toward their parents at this time…

  • “I’m worried about your ability to keep up with your house”.    All homes require maintenance; things need to be repaired.   Upkeep requires both energy and finances, both of which many aging parents lack.

They have every right to live where they want to and we should do all we can to make that happen.    Often, senior adults downsize and want to move to a place that is more suitable.   For example, a place that only has one floor rather than to having climb stairs.

But it is a concern for mid-life sons and daughters.

Another struggle for some…

  • “I’m worried about your unrealistic expectations of me”.   This is one of the greatest tensions of all.   No one wants to give up their independence and parents can interpret genuine concern from adult children as ingratitude or manipulation. 

This is exacerbated when there are unresolved conflicts simmering between them.   Now words are easily exchanged that never would have in the past.   Sometimes brutally.

I read an article in USA Today that the front part of our brain begins to diminish in  function as we grow older.  One of it’s purposes is to filter our words, that we would not say that which is unwise.  As the filter decreases, so our raw and hurtful words increase. 

Combine that with unresolved issues from the past that are mentally rehearsed (negative words, lack of gratitude, absence of affirmation) with both parties and it brings increased severity of conflict.   Guilt that has not been resolved results in a surface relationship that is waiting to destruct.

This time of life can be what lights that fuse.

One final area of concern…

“I’m worried about you leaving me”.    The closer the relationship, the deeper this emotion.

My father had a stroke and gradually began to weaken because of heart disease.   It was difficult for me to see him slowly decline and realize that he was in the process of dying.

I was talking with a close friend during this season who had also lost his father a few years earlier and he could sense my sadness.   He asked me, “Rick, do you feel like you are grieving your father’s death before he is gone?”

That was exactly what was happening.  I didn’t want to lose my father and my heart was hurting.  Though Dad was a believer in Christ, going to Heaven and had everything to gain, the anticipation of the losses I would experience were heavy.

I’ve not written this to excuse adult children not to care for their parents, but to help us understand some of the emotions of this time of life.   Also, I wanted to encourage those in their younger years to consider some of the possible issues they might experience in the future and also to realize the massive indebtedness they have to Mom and Dad.

One of Dad’s good qualities is that he didn’t speak negatively about people. He was an encourager.

We must not forget that our parents gave their time and their lives for us when we were helpless and now it is a privilege to return our love for them, even though it intrudes on our schedule.   How often did they stay up all night rocking us when we couldn’t sleep and drove us thousands of times to practices, school, and youth activities because we couldn’t do so ourselves.

All of these items I’ve listed mentioned involve an investment of time on the part of the mid-life son or daughter.  And love demands we do that.

Posted in Aging parents, conflict, Family Issues, Father, Mid-life issues, Mother, Parenting, Senior adult issues | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Relating to Your Parents at Mid-life

Years ago I taught a small group of married couples that were in the mid-life stage.   It was one of the most fruitful seasons of my ministry.   I brought a series of lessons that dealt with issues unique to that stage of life. I learned much from preparing the material and it helped me as I approached that stage with my parents.

Typically this blog has been geared around Bible principles as they relate to family issues.  I believe that the Designer of the home and family is God Himself and the design He has given is found in the Scriptures.   We cannot have ultimate and lasting success and violate those principles. 

The next few posts will deal with life at this stage, specifically as regards to parents to children and children to parents.   The thoughts will have reference to biblical truths, but many of them are things we learn through experience, sometimes in a hard way.    I trust they will cause one to think and be helpful.

For those that are currently in this time of life, I hope you will find encouragement and some direction.   For those that are younger and not quite there, I hope they will cause you to prepare mentally and prayerfully for some painful and difficult conversations.   And even more so that you might develop compassion and understanding for each other, on both ends of the spectrum.   When I taught the material it caused me to do all of these things.

Mid-life is about change and transition.    Most of us aren’t prepared for it and experience the growing pains that come with it.

One of those difficult transitions concerns relating to parents in mid-life years. We are unprepared for it because we haven’t thought about it.   No one ever talked to me about it.   I don’t remember hearing anything about it.   Perhaps I wasn’t listening while they were talking about it, but I should have been.

Some of the most painful questions I receive come from people that are in their mid-life years and are facing sensitive issues with their parents. These series of posts are meant to be read as a collective group.  The first two posts will state the challenge and problem in this time of life. The third will bring some answers and solutions.

Mom and Dad’s wedding, December 6, 1956.

What are some of the unique challenges of parents towards children at mid-life?

The following is not a comprehensive list, but are some of the most common issues that surface at this season.

Parents Feelings Towards Children at Mid-Life

Here are three common emotions that aging parents have as their children approach mid-life.

  • “You don’t spend enough time with me”.

Mid-life is when most people are stretched more than at any other time of life in terms of their discretionary time. Not only is there is full-time job (often with management or leadership responsibilities that are more challenging to be released from), but there are now multiple children and teenagers to care for (which includes driving to appointments, practices, games, and rehearsals).

Then, there are experiences you have looked forward to as your children are now in their teen years.   A special trip, being recognized at school, an all-star game.   They happen only once and you want to be there.

That makes for a recipe for some tough choices as the unique needs of senior parents become a reality and they conflict with these special times.    It’s easy to lecture and tell others what to do when you aren’t faced with the consequences of the choice, but quite another when you are staring at the choice and you feel the responsibility to do both things.

Part of the tension: a mid-life parent’s time is at a premium (perhaps more than at any other time) and usually their parents have more free time than ever.

A personal illustration.  My precious mother had three children in five years.  She was finished child-bearing at 24 years old.  Paula and I have seven children and I was 42 when we had our last one.  (Paula was 24 when our first was born; I was 26).  My sister, Melanie, has twelve children and was 43 when she had her last child.

Now, there are some major differences in outlook, perspective and expectations if Mom has similar expectations of time from us that she was able to give to her mother during the same season (in terms of quality and quantity).  This brings some difficult choices by Melanie and me that could result in a relational train wreck if this is not handled delicately.    It is not an issue of right or wrong, but of good and best.   To make those choices we need wisdom.

(I must insert here that unless you have read other things I have written that we hold our dear mother in the highest regard and would gladly sacrifice money, energy and time to serve her.  There is no way I could even estimate how much she has given to us.  My purpose in this example is only to show the tension that can come from expectations based on quite different realities, that is all.)

It is a shame – and wrong – that our parents should feel unwanted and lonely in their senior years. But the underlying emotions, “You don’t spend much time with me” are real during this time from many senior parents toward mid-life children.

My mom’s 80th birthday!

  • “You are ungrateful, after all I have done for you”.

This is much more personal and painful when spoken.  Sometimes is isn’t said, but the message is communicated by their spirit when they pull away.

The sad reality is that sometimes this is exactly the problem. But sometimes it is a result of an expectation that wasn’t met; it is the expression of a heartfelt frustration of not being understood or an extension of the first emotion stated above.

A while back I was visiting someone in a nursing home over a period of weeks. I got to know a few people there during my visits and one was a sweet lady that was always outside by the front door sitting in a chair. She was dressed immaculately and cheerful, greeting everyone that walked by her.

One day I asked her why she was always in her place by the door. I thought it was because she enjoyed the fresh air.  She replied, “I’m waiting for my son to visit me”. When I inquired about how long it had been since she had seen him she told me it had been many months.   It broke my heart.

Occasionally I would ask her if she had seen her son and she told me he still hadn’t come by yet. The last time I visited there she was stationed by that door.   Waiting.

That is tragic and wrong. No matter how busy we are in our mid-life years, our parents deserve better. One day there will be regret we didn’t do better.   We can never fully repay our parents.

But there may be times in an unpleasant exchange when you will hear a faint (or direct) accusation of ingratitude, when you feel that isn’t the issue at all.   It’s just that we do have a boss that doesn’t understand and we are attending some other events for the kids.   And there are hurt feelings.

  • “You are taking advantage of me”.

This is usually seen when you have to step in and take away their car keys.

The older parents become, this is more of a reality. When it becomes dangerous for an aging parent to drive because of their vision or reaction time, it is the right thing to do – for their sake and others. However, it is anguishing for both parties.    (Younger people not in mid-life years yet, read that last sentence again). 

This is an incredibly difficult conversation to have with your parents. Even the more so when you are close with them and want to honor them. Perhaps they would have done the same thing if they were in your shoes, but the pain of losing their independence and (what seems to them) their self-respect is more than they can bear.

This includes not only not allowing them to drive, but also taking charge of their finances – the check book, credit cards, debit cards.   Today, wicked people target elderly folks and petition them through phone calls and emails to give to bogus charities.   They scam them out of thousands of dollars because of their susceptibility brought on by age. I have seen this happen a number of times.   It makes me angry!

Also, I know this pain all too personally.  I remember when we had to take my father’s car keys from him and forbid him to drive.  That day was the most difficult thing we have ever had to do as children.   It hurt my father deeply. It hurt us deeply.    He was a professional driver and could drive better than any of us, but health issues had caught up with him.

I knew we were infringing on my beloved father’s dignity, from his perspective. But it had to be done.   After a few weeks he accepted it and things got back to normal, but I know for a period of time he felt betrayed and that we had taken advantage of him.

I’ve talked to friends of mine that have experienced the same types of responses and conflicts with their parents in this season.   It is a reality.

My writing this is only to prepare those of you that are younger to consider these facts and to have mercy on your parents. And perhaps for anyone that is in their senior years that might read this to have mercy on your children.    For those in mid-life years perhaps this can be an encouragement that you are not alone in the stress of this unique stage of life.

There will be misunderstandings.  It’s just a difficult time. But it can be a blessed and wonderful time, too. I’ll come to that in a later post.

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