In a single day recently, I found out my dad had been admitted to the hospital and my mom had received a serious diagnosis.
Friends, I am pleading with you to share this with your parents who think they are protecting us by keeping health scares from their adult children.
And, sweet baby Jesus in the manger, if you are a parent of grown children, tell them before the crap hits the fan, please.
Keeping things from us is not OK and here’s why.
What Aging Parents Think They’re Doing
1. Protecting Their Grown Children
But you AREN’T.
You are making all of this worse by hiding the truth from us. You forget that—while you may look at us and remember your little baby—we are real, live grown-ups now with jobs and houses, cars, and kids of our own. We are not fragile toddlers but actual adults who should have the mental capabilities to process even difficult information.
2. Saving Their Adult Children from Burden
Again, you’re WRONG.
Listen, Karen, you are our parent and therefore not a burden. Sure, you annoy the crap out of us sometimes with your unsolicited advice on our new haircut or the way we fix our green bean casserole, but we love you anyway.
When you love someone, they aren’t a burden. You make a conscious choice to love and that includes during the tough stuff.
3. Making Things Easier for Their Kids Who are Full-Fledged Adults
This is the opposite of correct.
In my case, had I known in the weeks leading up to my dad’s hospital admission, I may have been able to save money for a flight to visit or help out. Instead, I only made the trip three states away thanks to the gracious gift of a generous friend because—newsflash, mom—flights are usually real dang expensive when you are frantically trying to find a ticket the day of. And this doesn’t even come close to all of what has to happen to arrange for childcare, carpooling, and everything else that has to be covered for our homes to still run if we need to tag off with a spouse or friend so we can come care for you on a whim.
4. Handling The Mess that Accompanies Aging
We know you are adults, too. And, here’s the thing, I won’t pretend I understand how real aging feels.
I’m 37. My body makes noises when I get out of bed, and it takes me a lot longer to get up after playing on the floor with my kids than it used to, but I know I am not where you are so I won’t act like I do. It must be scary to have friends your age dying of terminal diseases and feeling your own strength deteriorate. You must worry about when you will lose your basic freedoms or if one day you may lose your best friend or even your spouse.
But we are your kids and we care about you. So let us support you, pray for you, encourage you, help you out. Don’t you remember when you had to bail us out of a stupid decision in high school or support us when we had no idea how to file our taxes? It’s a similar concept, really.
One of us is learning to let go a little and the other is learning to graciously accept help even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable because loving someone is messy.
What You are Actually Doing
1. Hurting Us
When you withhold information about our loved ones, it is damaging our future ability to trust what you say. It is also painful that you didn’t disregard your want to protect us in favor of letting us into that scary part of your life because you know how deeply we care for you.
2. Not Trusting Us
By not calling, it is demonstrating that, on some level, you don’t trust we can handle what you have to say. Sure, you may have received a terminal diagnosis or other bad news that might feel devastating to us, but you need to let that be ours to sort through. We are grown-ups, and we can handle it.
3. Making Us Worry
Whenever you choose to not share vital information with us, especially concerning your health, we only worry more. We go from only worrying when necessary to worrying all the time because of the lack of communication and trust leaves us to lean on all of the what ifs . . . and we can spiral.
When You Need to Call Your Grown Children
- If you get a diagnosis
- If you are sent to the ER/hospital
- If you are having any issue that is reoccurring or chronic
- If you are afraid of some symptoms you’re experiencing
Do not make me explain any of these further. Listen to me closely, Karen. If any of the aforementioned happens to you or your spouse, pick up the phone and call me. Do not text. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Call your dang child pronto and be honest with us.
How Adult Children Can Help Ease the Burdens of Aging Parents
1. Maintain Consistent Communication
This goes far beyond the fact they are your parents, and you should be doing this anyway. Talking regularly, even if only once a week, allows seemingly small or trivial things the opportunity to come up in natural conversation instead of requiring a scary, out-of-the-blue phone call. Plus, I forget just about everything, and I’m not even 40 so I imagine it is easier on my folks to tell me something that happened recently if we talk more often.
2. Be Open With Your Parents, Too
Pump the brakes, Karen. I am not suggesting you tell your deepest secrets to your dad. I am just saying that the more open you are with them, the more likely they will be to keep you in the loop.
For instance, our son’s multiple behavior diagnoses bring with them a ton of therapies, appointments, and med changes. So I do my best to make sure both sets of our parents know what is going on with both of our kids when things change. That helps them understand when things are hard and to be there for us because even though we are adults, sometimes no one listens like your mom.
3. Ask Questions to Keep Yourself Informed
Friends, one of the health issues that came up this week with my mom was something she didn’t even understand. And I felt that because half of the time I have no clue what I am doing as an adult. So, I encouraged my mom to ask questions of her doctor, and I promised to ask more questions, too.
What does that diagnosis mean? Is it treatable? Curable? Can it be maintained with meds?
Here’s the thing. None of us wants to get old. It is scary and weird and one of those things we think will never happen to us . . . until it does.