Q. I am in my mid-forties with a spouse and three children. My parents are both in their early seventies. My father retired when he was 70. He enjoyed his work but appreciates being retired. I have four siblings and I am the second oldest.
I usually drop in to visit my parents once or twice a week for coffee and a chat. Unfortunately, I have noticed my parents becoming more and more annoyed and impatient with one another. Sometimes I am uncomfortable and leave early. My mother, who has always been an understanding sort of person, now seems reactive and confrontational. My father, who has always been somewhat impatient, now seems mostly exasperated and grouchy.
I asked them a few months ago if there was a problem between the two of them and they shrugged their shoulders and did not volunteer any information. They also have not become involved in any of the activities they wanted to pursue when they retired. I am disappointed with how their retirement is working out, but I do not know if I should become more involved in their lives.
A. I am glad you are concerned about your parents and I assume you have a good relationship with both of them. Unfortunately, the so-called golden years are not always golden. Retirement can be a tricky transition for many couples who have faithfully carried out the responsibilities of providing for their families and may now be at loose ends. It is a time of letting go of familiar roles and must also be a time of creating new opportunities that nurture their interests and values at this stage of their lives. Having spent so many years committed to meeting the needs of the family may have short circuited their sense of adventure or their ability to boot themselves out of their comfort zone.
For those reasons, I believe becoming involved in your parents’ lives out of concern for their well-being is normal and natural. Consequently, I would first suggest you have a meaningful chat with your mother, because she used to be “an understanding kind of person.” Let her know what you think was working well in their relationship while you were growing up. Remind her of her hopes for retirement and ask her what she thinks is happening to keep them from following through on their plans. If she is hesitant, be specific in what you see taking place between them and let her know your concern.
Second, if your mother is not forthcoming, ask her about their physical, mental or emotional health in a non-threatening way. Again, stress that you are concerned about them. The reality is that parents sometimes hide their frailties from their adult children to avoid upsetting them and/or knowingly needing them, but not wanting to acknowledge this stage in their lives.
I also wonder if you have noticed any unusual or unfamiliar behavior coming from your parents. Being afflicted with dementia has become a major fear of those who are aging. And parents at times try to hide the symptoms of the beginning stages from loved ones, hoping it will go away. Unfortunately, over time it upsets their relationship with one another to such an extent that everyday behavior becomes skewed and unmanageable.
Liberated from work
Aging in our modern society can be wonderful if one is healthy, financially stable and has enough energy to be meaningfully involved in society. Unfortunately, retirement does not always deliver on those promises. It can be a time of challenges and disappointments.
And yet, if your parents are not facing major challenges but are merely lost in the trickiness of transitioning into the retirement stage, I would suggest you help them sort through their issues by encouraging them to see a pastor or therapist to get back on a more enjoyable path of life. Another question, equally important, that it may be helpful for them to consider is this: how do we want to be remembered when our time on earth is done? It just may give them the courage they need to embrace the redemptive faith they hold dear and go forward with a healthier attitude.
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