Miscommunications between adult children and their parents
Because adult children tend to be in the dark about what their adult parents are going through, they often interpret their parents' wandering conversational style or stubborn behavior as a sign that they're failing or developing dementia. Because of such misunderstandings, it's common for adult children to become trapped in struggles over issues like housing and health care. These battles and miscommunications not only damage relationships but distract our aging parents from important legacy work they need to accomplish. Consider some typical examples of miscommunication between adult children and their parents:
Example 1: You're trying to talk to your widowed father about where he's going to live now that his health is failing. You're in a hurry to get the matter resolved, but your father keeps drifting off the subject to tell stories about how he found this house years ago when he and your mother were newlyweds.
What's really going on: Your father is consciously or unconsciously engaged in the life review process as part of understanding his legacy. As he contemplates leaving this house for good, he's looking back on all this house has meant to him since he first moved there with his young bride.
Example 2: Your mother has complained several times that her eyes are bothering her and that she's having trouble reading at night. Yet every time you suggest making an appointment with her eye doctor, she resists. When you go ahead and make an appointment, she cancels it at the last minute, insisting that her eyes are fine.
What's really going on: Over the last few years, your mother has had to give up playing tennis because of her arthritis, and two of her oldest friends, who she often used to travel with, have died. She may be resisting the eye exam in part because she doesn't want to know if her eyes are failing, as this could mean more restrictions on her lifestyle and loss of independence.
Example 3: Every time you visit your parents, all they seem to talk about is health problems — not even their own health problems, but those of friends, neighbors, even perfect strangers. Don't they have anything better to talk about?
What's really going on: When you consider that their failing bodies are robbing them of mobility, independence, and ultimately, life, it makes sense that many older people are fixated on health issues According to Mary Pipher, "Illness is the battle ground of old age. It's where we make our last stand. It's the World War, the Great Depression, the Hurricane Hugo. Like all post-traumatic stress victims, the old are interested in trauma stories. They talk to work through the trauma."