When time takes its toll, will you be there for her?
The broad question I wish to discuss today is the following: The mother offers much to the child by way of her time and energy in his early years. But do the children of today manage to give these back to her in her twilight years? In the following post, I speak not with reference to knowledge gained through reading or any other means but purely from life experience.
I will address three aspects of the relationship between elderly mothers and their adult children. These aspects are filled with unmet expectations and mismatched ideas. Here’s a quick look at these three areas:
- Material Comforts vs. Quality Time: What does she expect? What does the child offer?
- The Underappreciated High Performer: The mother’s tendency to protect the weaker child
- Dignity in Old Age: Everyday scenarios that reflect a mismatch in perception.
Let’s look at the first one:
The time of growing up is one of joy and learning for the child; and the mother’s role in ensuring this is paramount. She gives abundantly of her time and energy – precious resources both – to ensure the child’s happiness and care.
Now, fast forward around fifty years. The mother is now is her sixties, and the tables are turned. The mother’s care now rests in the hands of the child; and the child, on his part, ensures that all of the parent’s material needs are taken care of as she grows older. No conveniences are spared – from a large home and chauffeur-driven cars to full-time nurses. But how much do these count for? Do these conveniences justify the loneliness of those twilight years?
Here’s what I want to say: after sixty, what parents expect and look forward to from their children are very different from a mere fulfillment of material needs. They, quite simply, hope to spend quality time with their children. This is what they provided to their children, and it is also what they expect to receive back; to share your successes, happiness, hard days and all the rest is what they hope for. This understanding is lost on the children of today.
I do not place any blame on them, though, for their priorities are different – given their younger age group and the priorities of the times we live in. However, these very children will feel their loss the moment they lose their parents to old age or death. The value of time spent together strikes home only when you can’t do it anymore. When they were there, you simply didn’t have the time for them.
A second mismatch seen in mother-child relationships is one involving siblings. Here, I wish to draw attention to the nature of a mother’s response to her children’s positions in life. When a child is doing well, it is only rarely that the parent will pat on his back and appreciate his work. Her focus is directed towards the child who is less well off in life – be it financially, health-wise, or in any other way. If a child is doing well, her assumption is that he doesn’t need her anymore. Hence her passion and compassion are turned towards the second child, whereas, the first child is all the while wondering why, when he has done everything required to ensure the comfort and happiness of his parent/mother, he isn’t getting the requisite attention or appreciation for his successes.
Consider this scenario: You have guests at home. Say these are important guests. Elderly parents expect to be introduced to them, and quite rightfully so. They may be physically unwell but still expect you to invite them on your outings. Children sometimes fail to do these things and hurt their parents deeply in the bargain. This represents a third case of mismatch in relationships between adult children and their elderly parents.
Now, how is one to avoid these scenarios, given constraints of time and your limited reserves of patience and empathy?
By setting aside time for your parents as you did for your children all those years ago, without any expectation of returns. At the same time, it is important that you take good care of your own health which may take a toll due to continuous caregiving.
While it may be difficult to eliminate these three scenarios altogether, I believe it will be hugely beneficial to parent-child relationships – arguably among the most important on the planet – to avoid these to whatever extent possible.