This article was written by Andrea Brandt
It’s a universal truth that we take things for granted, especially when we’re young. Even though we know that it’s not logical, a part of us believes our parents or mentors will always be there when we need them. And we can’t wrap our mind around the idea that one day our children may have children of their own, and we can no longer send them to their room when they misbehave. Our relationships with our parents and children change as we age. For the sake of our happiness and the happiness of those we love, we must learn how to adjust and cope with those changes.
You’ll never stop needing people to look up to or lean on, but that need becomes harder to fulfill as you age. Part of growing older is losing key figures: your parents, a boss who you viewed as a mentor, a favorite aunt or uncle. These are critical losses. Finding a new “authority figure” or elder to fill the hole these losses leave can provide important benefits. You may find that turning to a supportive therapist, personal coach, or another professional at this time is helpful. They can provide you with the unconditional acceptance you miss. If this kind of relationship doesn’t interest you, consider turning to another relative or elder who may be able to play this role.
If you’re over the age of 50, chances are your children are adults now — at least technically. Even if they still live with you, your relationship with them will change. When it comes to adult children, you should try to follow these five principles:
- Give them space
You may not be used to giving your children space. Maybe you even had a “no locked doors” policy when they were younger. Adults, though, need privacy. You expect your kids to give it to you, and you should do the same for them.
- Listen more than you talk
The time for lectures is over. One of the keys to healthy friendships is listening, and your relationship with your children should become more and more like a friendship the older they get.
- Have fun together
Another key element of friendship is enjoying activities together. You’ll feel closer to your children when you’re both relaxed and are having a good time. Watch a football game together, take a hike, or play a board game.
- Learn how to disagree
At one time, you could tell your children what to do. Now, you have to negotiate differences of opinion. This part of your relationship with your children may be the hardest to adjust to.
- Make room for their significant others
If you make your children decide between you and their new partner, you’re probably not going to like the result.
Trying to discipline adult children will just push them away. What they need is your encouragement and emotional support as they take on more responsibilities and learn new coping skills. If you continue to treat them as just children, you’ll miss the wonderful adult they’ve become.
If you miss having someone depend on you, instead of forcing your children to stay in the role they had when they were young, you can find new young people. There are many organizations that look for older volunteers to work with children. If it’s unconditional love you’re after, research shows that caring for a pet is good for your health — they reduce both heart disease and cholesterol levels while being loving companions. Being responsible for a pet — especially a dog — requires you get up and leave the house every day, which is as good for you as it is for them.
Managing changing relationships is a crucial part of getting older. When it comes to aging well, accepting that some relationships you’ll lose and have to replace and others will have to change is as important as planning for your retirement.