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.

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
This entry was posted in close family, communication, conflict, disagreements, expectation, familiy issues, Family Issues, Father, Mid-life issues, Mother, Parenting, problems, Senior adult issues, wisdom and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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