Concern is OK, control is not

Tracey Ask Tracey

Dear Tracey,

I love my children but they’re driving me nuts. I finally moved to be closer to them, which meant giving up my life that I had been happily crafting for the last fifty years. It seemed easier for them if I lived closer.   

I’m 79, single, and a retired librarian. I’m healthy, have my own apartment, passed my driver’s test again, and don’t require any outside help. My main focus now is  building community, which isn’t very easy at my age.

But my kids are constantly dropping by. They say it’s to visit. It feels like they’re always looking around, checking up on me. Phone calls feel like I’m being evaluated. They over-react to simply mistake I may make. I end up feeling criticized and then I just clam up.

Everything I read is about how difficult it is on children when they caretake their elderly parents. Why doesn’t anyone ever thing about the challenges elderly parents have with their well meaning, but controlling offspring?

I’m not a cranky old lady, truly. I have the best children and I do appreciate their concern. I just wish they would treat me like the adult I am.


On my own

Dear Reader,

You raise an excellent point. I don’t think your perspective is addressed often enough.

Like you, countless parents find themselves in this difficult situation. They want their children’s concern but they don’t want to be controlled. Longing for connection, they demand autonomy. Most are fiercely independent but hope their children will come through if they need help. It’s little wonder these can be challenging years.

I’m hopeful you can smooth out your relationship by doing a few things.

First of all, take some time to identify how you may be playing into this discord. (Every relationship is a two-way street.) For this to work, you need to be brutally honest with yourself!

Begin by identifying your own emotional, mental, and physical limitations. I’m sure you know what they are. When do you actually need help from your children? Get clear on these issues so you can help your children have a better understanding of how they can best support you.

Next, recognize what your particular ‘buttons’ are while owning up to the fact that you have some natural sensitivities around aging. (Who doesn’t?)

Consider how you react to their suggestions or their looks. (You don’t really know what they are thinking or feeling from a look. People are often surprised when they ask what is behind a facial expression.) Recognize that by getting defensive and shutting down, you deny yourself and your children an honest and respectful relationship. 

For example, I’ve had frustrated parents tell me that they have resisted their children’s very logical and caring suggestions for no other reason than they were fed up with being told what . When does choosing to be stubborn rather than practical do anyone any good?

Finally, clamming up is no way to cope. Your children can’t begin to know what your’e feeling if you don’t tell them. Remaining silent will only make the situation worse.

Once you have completed this review of your accountability, formulate a plan that reflects what you want and need. (Make sure you address your need for healthy boundaries.) Then call a family meeting. Sit those kids down and have a respectful and  honest conversation. Be forthright and accountable and ask them to do the same.

When everyone has said his/her piece, thank them for their love and concern, then ask if all of you can develop a plan about this next chapter in your lives. 

It won’t be an easy conversation, nor will it be the last one you ever have on this topic. Parents and children will always have differences. It comes with the territory. But by introducing this type of communication into your relationships, you’ll all have a much better chance of avoiding some of the landmines you have described.

Hopefully, all of this will free you up to create a more satisfying life. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s  rough to start over after fifty years of living in one location.