Are we aware of our parents’ insecurities or do they cleverly hide them? Why do they do this?
Because of: pride, our youth-oriented culture, denial, valuing independence
What are the insecurities?
Concern about meeting responsibilities, looking old,
acting old, forgetting, having an accident, losing mobility, losing sight, losing control and probably most of all, fear that their children will make them move.
Our psychiatrist-senior advisor, Dr. Bud, explains: With aging comes loss. When normal aging changes impact what we’ve taken for granted throughout our life, (eg. vision, hearing, strength, ability to heal rapidly, move quickly, enjoy mobility, count on our memory)–a sense of loss occurs–sometimes a profound sense of loss can occur. Loss can undermine confidence and create insecurities. There’s a new reality. “We can’t do what we used to do.”
To begin, there can be problems with Acceptance: Julia (who won’t tell her age until she’s 100–OK that’s pride)–is a real, very wise person in my unpublished book. Involved in a discussion with other octogenarians about when older people should stop driving, she says pointedly: “A lot of people can’t be honest with themselves and try to be something they can’t be. It’s acceptance,” she continues, “an accepting of a lessening of yourself and it’s not pleasant. But you have to settle for some of this.”
And there’s Denial: We’ve all seen people who deny aging by their actions and their affect (the way they look). The cliche is the old man flirting with the young women– and the young “trophy wife.” R once told us that one of her trying-to-act-young contemporaries (both in their 90’s at the time) was still “teetering around” on high heels. We knew this woman’s son and when we asked how his mother was, he responded that she was still wearing those high heels and he feared she would fall one day. (She never did.)
3. Pride is a motivator that keeps older people looking good and meeting responsibilities. In our youth-oriented society, it’s not cool to be seen as old. Independent elders, like Sr. Advisor R, take care to maintain their image. They make the effort and take all the time necessary to look as good as possible. They’ve learned to compensate for vision loss, hearing loss, hair loss, energy loss, etc. and many do physical and mental exercises. While they are more cautious, especially when vision impairs seeing well at night, they are more graceful about it. R will now ask for your arm when stepping of the curb to cross a street–a direct, dignified request.
R isn’t driven by our youth-oriented culture. Perhaps it’s because she learned grown up responsibilities when very young. She says her father taught her to be responsible very early on due to family illness. That included learning to take a streetcar by herself to get places. And R has accepted “the lessening,” figuring out how to compensate so she can do most of the things she has done since she was widowed in her early 50’s.
She still lives alone and independently, knows what’s going on, helps friends, supports her favorite charities, and has love and admiration from–I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say–every young person (boomer and younger) who spends 5 minutes with her.
I’ve quoted R many times, saying (once she entered her 90’s) that “things get more difficult each day.” We believe her, but don’t see the evidence except where energy is concerned. So what do we, adult children, do? We try to empower. We respect her wishes. We give legitimate compliments and praise when appropriate. If she doesn’t ask, we keep most suggestions to ourselves. We try to supplement groceries or make things easier in any way we can during the months we’re with her.
A geriatric social worker said once “It takes a village to keep the grandparent in the village.” To that end, R’s neighbors wheel her garbage and recyclables to the street and back each week, bring the daily newspaper and mail to her back door, leave flowers, baked goods, little notes by her back door, and two women (one 51, the other a boomer) phone each week when they go grocery shopping–inviting her to go with them or asking what they can get for her.
How fortunate older people are when they have thoughtful, caring neighbors who value older people and help make aging in place possible; and how grateful far-away-living children are for these wonderful neighbors who fill in the gaps (thus unseen insecurities don’t overwhelm), and–in general–help parents age well.