Aging/Elderly Parents: Self-Esteem–Vulnerable

Weddings and bridal showers are usually intergenerational events. The celebratory feeling during that time gives old and young the opportunity to easily interact, sharing–for a brief period– a commonality most of us have experienced.  

My friend’s mother–86, independent and in-charge–had a diminishing experience at her granddaughter’s bridal shower, an experience even my friend, Katy (a perfect aging parent’s daughter) couldn’t have anticipated.

After the shower, on the way home, she remarked to Katy (who sat far from her mother at the shower) that she was upset. Why? A “young girl” (actually an adult in her early twenties) came over, introduced herself, sat down, and they had “a really nice conversation” until the end when the “girl”–getting ready to leave–said: “I really enjoyed talking with you, Gran.” 

“Gran.” Katy’s mother was crest-fallen. “Gran:”a name even her grandchildren didn’t use. No explanation or rationalization that this was probably the endearing term the “girl” used with her own grandmother, could erase the negative effect of one no doubt well-intentioned word…a word that diminished a grandmother who considered herself (and was) a “with-it,” normal woman–not an old lady. This sensitivity even surprised sensitive Katy.

It’s hard to get into the head of older people; indeed the above may seem trivial. Yet with-it aging parents who don’t consider themselves old hope others don’t either. The way we feel about ourself, self-esteem, occupies the list of important factors for aging well (along with independence, decent health and connections [friends]).

We try our best to help aging parents. Clearly we can’t protect them from everything.  When we have a relationship with our parents that allows them to share unpleasant experiences, we’ve “done good.” Instead of offering a possible rationalization, perhaps acknowledging the feeling (hurt, diminished) then reinforcing elderly parents’ self-esteem with a laundry list (or shorter) of experiences affirming “young-old,” or being “with it” can soften the blow.      

For common subtle (and less subtle) diminishing interactions that we might–or might not–notice, click my August post:                                                                              

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