Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Understanding the shifting balance of familial influence as we age allows us to more fully embrace quality time with loved ones.
I was lucky enough to be a stay-home mom when my children were tiny. I do not take for granted that I could spend 24 hours a day with my twins. While I relished the time home, the reality is, even though I was home all day, I was not playing, holding, cuddling my children the whole time. That would be impossible unless you wanted the house as you knew it to fall apart around you.
What matters is not the time spent but the quality of that time.
I had plenty of time with my children, and though the working moms I knew had fewer hours at home during the day with their children, I observed that they made that time before and after work count. They took advantage of their time and used it intentionally. I would even venture to say that hour for hour, we probably spent the same amount of quality time with our children. Let’s focus on that quality time.
During the early years, quality time is primarily determined by the parents, of course. We decide when and what the activities should be. If you are keeping score, the scheduling of the quality time rests solely with you — 100% of the time.
When children enter school, they are aware enough to realize that they can decide (in some cases) whether they want to spend time with us. Sometimes a child will even ask their parents to do something together. And boy, does that make us feel like wonderful, wanted parents. As a matter of fact, we brag to our friends about the times our children initiated activities. We don’t talk about the rest of the day. In my humble opinion, the dynamic moves slightly 90% us-10% them.
Then comes another shift, this one more profound than the last. After college, children begin their own lives finding time for their work, friends, and parents.
Not by accident, family may be last on the list. We can ask, but the reality is, based on geography, socioeconomics, and demographics, we have less control over the time spent together, so we learn to be patient and wait for an opening or an invitation. The good news is that time is mutually rewarding as you are now equal parts parent and friend. This moment in time is where my children are right now, and I value, relish, enjoy every moment that we spend together, albeit not nearly enough for my liking. Another change, 30% us-70% them.
As life continues and your children marry and have children of their own, the change in quality time is expected but still hard to get used to. Now they are initiating most of the time having the kids spend time with the grandparents while waiting for those small openings to invite a quality interaction: Us 40%, them 60%.
Now that my children are grown, and the raising part is mere memories, we can interact as adults, both parties are equal, 50%-50%. I think of my mom and me. We both initiate visits. We want to spend time together, and our conversations are thoughtful and mutually rewarding. We find ourselves sharing laughter and asking for advice. What better way to negotiate your life successfully than to ask the one person who not only has been there and done it but has done it with grace.
We want to believe that this relationship will stay that way forever. None of us want to think about our parents getting old.
But the earth keeps rotating and time continues to move on. For me, the cycle of life and changing connection was driven home one day while walking by the reservoir. A car pulled up, and an older gentleman meandered out and headed for the waterline. He was followed by a 50-something son quickly exiting the car and grabbing two chairs and two fishing rods from the back of the car.
I said, “Great day for fishing.” He responded with, “I take my father here every three weeks, to this exact spot. “Their Spot,” he called it. There, they sit, talk, “feed worms to the fish,” and enjoy each other’s company for a couple of hours. His story filled me with such joy. I quickly thought of the places that I could say are “our spots” with my mom and dad. I was pleased that a few spots jumped quickly to mind.
The effort for connection has made its final shift. Let’s call it children 70%, parents 30%.
We then find ourselves relying on our children to care for, entertain and support us. There is something so beautiful about a child caring for their elderly parents.
Aging is inevitable. As such, there will come the point where we, as parents, require more and more care, and the final stage of our relationships with our children will, hopefully, involve 100% effort from our children. There is a beautiful circularity in this experience, something that is unique to humans. While aging is feared here in the west, we can look at how other cultures revere their elderly. These precious family members live with their children and extended family and are seen as the voice of the family. Their life knowledge and opinions are respected and honored, even while bodies age and weaken. I am not implying that we must shift western society to the filial piety seen in other parts of the world. However, the recognition and acceptance of the cyclical nature of the relationship between parent and child helps us come to terms with the fact that the give and take of relational effort must change. It is expected, it is healthy, and it is part of the circle of life.
You may also enjoy reading The Complex Rules for Raising Adult Children: From Protector to Guide by Judy Marano