Middle age - parenting your own parents?

My parents did right by us, my brother and I. They gave us everything they were able to and more. They saw to it that we were better educated and had more opportunities than they ever had themselves.

Now I'm in my late thirties, with two kids of my own, and I live nearly four hours drive away from my parents.

I'm starting to find that they're not living their lives by the knowledge a guidelines they instilled in us, their children.

I'm honestly in a situation where I feel like I need to go back home, sit them down, and tell them that they need to change what they're doing, and how they're living.

Anyone have any experience sending advice, instructions, requests upstream?

It feels unnatural to to be the child giving advice to the parents, and I expect it to be received as an insult.

They do not take advice well. They're Cold War era people to whom there is no worse crime than telling a man how to live his life. My father in particular has has bad experiences with younger, "highly educated" managers in a large company.

Thanks if you can share your experiences and help me come up with a strategy for this.

At the least their health and well being is on the line. At the worst, lives.

My parents aren't at a place yet where they depend on me in any real sense, and they're not doing much that I'd necessarily disagree with, so I feel like I can't directly offer any help on this. But they have been asking me for advice on things, which does feel weird. And annoying when they don't listen.

I've got a similar situation, not really a problem, but I don't want it to become one although that's probably inevitable.They want to keep on doing things the way they've always done, and right now they're perfectly capable.

Take for example the mountains of spare parts and offcuts we've kept over the years "just in case" it's useful, they're not really organised that well, and they're stored in any shed, box or on any convenient flat surface that'll support them. I'm half their age and get pissed off when I have to contort myself to try and grab something, so I worry what it'd be like without me around. Perhaps I over-worry, but I'd prefer that than the alternative, and improving the storage situation would be better anyway. What I try to do any time it fits in with whatever project we're doing at the time is to leave things better than they were, bit-by-bit make things easier to manage.

In a way it's a bit of a culture clash, as they've got a nice house that they've spent the last 35+ years filling with stuff, and right now in my life I'm struggling to see how I could follow in their footsteps, so I really can't horde stuff like they've done so I try to be selective about what I keep.

I've learned that you need to be sneaky about how you help them. You can't just say "Things need to change", but try and do little things that add up.

I'm not even going to touch the, raised by a Great Depression survivor - keep it just in case, way of storing things. I can understand, the raised on a farm, everything is useful again eventually, thing. I'm guilty myself, though to a much much lesser degree.

This is more about health, diet, stress management, medication management, emotion management and its offshoot problems; of course alcohol is part of the issue for various reasons in various ways.

For them, going to the doctor or shrink, is admitting you're broken, and they don't see the increasing performance way of doing it.

Hoo boy do I. Ghosty, shoot me a PM and we can have a private gmail or skype chat. I have already aired a good bit of this laundry on the forums once before, and my treatise would crash the thread.

In my, sadly, broad experience in this you encounter a good deal of petulance. Much like a teenager older family, parents, will still do what they want even if it leads to financial ruination, an early grave.

At an exteme end my wife's mother has flat out refused any sort of financial planning advice; but her mother constantly was asking her for hand outs to supplement living a life with too many expensive luxuries (say paying on 4 phone lines on a cell plan but only having 2 working phones) or paying for premium cable but not getting the propane tank filled for winter.

1. You can never force your parents to do what you want without a court order, and good luck with that absent a diagnosis of a psychotic disease.
2. Depending on the parents, there may always exist an attitude of they have the power relative to you (that was my parents.)
3. Setting realistic and healthy boundaries of how far you will go is important. My wife when we were engaged had this plan of her mother moving in with us when (not if) she lost everything. Problem is her mother would bring in tow 3 dogs, 4 cats, a deadbeat husband, and a meddling mother in law. You cannot change that your parents may choose to harm themselves rather than listen to you or any sort of reason.
4. Fighting may do more harm than good. It can lead to resentment (see my family).
5. The best thing for all parties involved may be for you to just stop, accept, and step back. It is not easy, and you should discuss this with your partner. But if all you accomplish by fighting is a bloody head and a red spot on a brick wall, you guarantee that other aspects of your life will suffer-with your kids, at work, with your wife/husband.

5. Is where my wife and I got to with our parents. When I was working in bank foreclosures, my parents would not even take advice I had when it came to their own foreclosure which became a last straw for me. But with a step back, for my wife and me, we found our relationship managed to prosper better. And it took awhile for she and I both to understand that rather than us turning our backs on our families, in many ways they threw our help back in our faces and walked away from us.

Ghostship wrote:

I'm honestly in a situation where I feel like I need to go back home, sit them down, and tell them that they need to change what they're doing, and how they're living.

Hoo boy indeed.

Ghostship wrote:

It feels unnatural to to be the child giving advice to the parents, and I expect it to be received as an insult.

That's because it's insulting.

Thing to remember a): you can't change someone else.
Thing to remember b): you're not in charge of them.

If you're concerned (and you obviously are), it's something you should talk about, but to think that you know better than them and can tell them how to live their lives is impressive gall (and a whole lot of other uncomplimentary things). I recognize that you feel that way because you care, and that's how you approach it.

The best you can do is tell them what you've observed (without blame or judgement), tell them what your concerns are and how their behaviour makes you feel, and what you'd like to see as a change. After that, it's up to them.

Man, this has been my year for this sort of thing...

In January, my Mom's (64 years old) boyfriend committed suicide in her backyard because she was kicking him out. He was a hoarder and she finally became fed up with it and his alcoholism. I ended up having to clear out his possessions because no one in his family wanted his junk. After I finally cleared his stuff out of the basement (her house is a HUGE 4 bedroom ranch with a full basement underneath) I found severe water damage and mold. My Mom had been getting sick frequently and this was a probable factor. Thousands of dollars later and the basement was gutted and repaired. Then my Mom had a small heart attack in May. Then in July she almost died after being bit by a cat and going septic after picking up two infections from the bite and staph.

Ok, so why am I telling you all this?

Because for years I had been begging her to sell the house, get rid of the cats and get rid of the crappy boyfriend. It took that hospital trip in July where I had to sign for spinal taps, resuscitation and power of attorney to wake her up to the fact that her house was out of control. Because when I cleared out that basement, it wasn't just his stuff I was tossing... it was her hoarded junk as well. And her heart attack I found later was because she mixed up her medications. My Mom carries a freezer baggie in her purse full of morphine, oxys and other pain killers for a foot injury she had years ago. The docs keep renewing those damn Rxs.

So where am I going with this... Well, the situation sucks. I tried for years to head off the course of this past year. Everything came to a head in July and I was finally able to get her to listen to me and get her go ahead to clear the house and sell it. Now she's in a retirement apartment community 20 minutes from me with a fraction of the possessions she had before. But now she's spending the money she earned on the house sale on QVC junk and I'm starting to see the apartment getting a little smaller each time I visit. She's in a safer place but I think she needs some counselling but I can't get her to agree to it.

Sometimes you need those close calls to get someone's attention.

Ghostship wrote:

Anyone have any experience sending advice, instructions, requests upstream?

It feels unnatural to to be the child giving advice to the parents, and I expect it to be received as an insult.

They do not take advice well. They're Cold War era people to whom there is no worse crime than telling a man how to live his life. My father in particular has has bad experiences with younger, "highly educated" managers in a large company.

It shouldn't be seen as unnatural, nor should it be received as an insult, if you make it clear that everything comes from a place of love. You're not berating your parents to clean up their lives. You simply want them to be around longer for you, your brother, and all their grandchildren and part of that involves them taking better care of themselves.

Much like your parents likely had to do when you were a teenager, that will involve walking a tightrope of doing what you can to nudge them in the right direction without coming across as being overbearing and demanding. It's not easy and it can get very messy, especially because they are adults and have a mind of their own.

Scratched wrote:

I've got a similar situation, not really a problem, but I don't want it to become one although that's probably inevitable.They want to keep on doing things the way they've always done, and right now they're perfectly capable.

Yeah, I'm facing the same thing with my parents, especially my father. He's always been an incredibly handy man and takes much pride in maintaining his home and yard. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite caught on that he can't do things at 74 that he could at 50.

Add in a stubborn streak and some incubating dementia and you get some problems. Like him nearly cutting off his thumb with a chainsaw because he removed its safety guard...while it was running. Why'd he do that? He figured it would get in his way and he had problems starting the chainsaw so he didn't want to turn it off.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

That's because it's insulting.

Thing to remember a): you can't change someone else.
Thing to remember b): you're not in charge of them.

If you're concerned (and you obviously are), it's something you should talk about, but to think that you know better than them and can tell them how to live their lives is impressive gall (and a whole lot of other uncomplimentary things). I recognize that you feel that way because you care, and that's how you approach it.

This is probably true and I do realize it.
The last suggestion I gave to my dad about his health, was a message of, "Just try to think a little about diet and exercise. You had fun playing with the boys that weekend, I think they'd like you to be around for a while. I barely remember my grandfather. We do have a family history ..."

I've often thought about giving them some success audio. They do a lot of, "we're too old for..." and "we'll be dead soon, and you guys have to....". They're in their sixties! I was listening to an account of lady who climbed Mt. Fuji in her nineties.

Without throwing this all out into the internet, anyone addressed drinking with their parents?

Let's just say that there are a number of things that are leading to, "you need to change this or we have to severely limit how you are a part of our lives." There is already drama, paranoia, ridiculous grudges and hard feelings. It makes family gatherings unbearably difficult. Someone is always spooning out the guilt or bitter resentment. It's one two way street in particular, but it affects everyone.

Wow this pulled up old feelings. In 2004 my 85 year old father moved in with my wife and I after leaving my mother 2 years prior. (I was 35 with my first kid on the way.) The first few years were fine and he could function on his own, but his COPD started to take its toll on his health and decision making. I did all I could to keep him in my home but when he started falling and not being able to take care of his basic needs I had to move him to adult foster care. That final year or so was hard to flip the father son dynamic and be the adult in our relationship and see the man I was dependent on as a child up be so dependent on me.

It feels unnatural to to be the child giving advice to the parents, and I expect it to be received as an insult.

That's because it's insulting.
Thing to remember a): you can't change someone else.
Thing to remember b): you're not in charge of them.

I don't know the relationship you have with your parents, but you cannot just decide they are doing thing wrong and have an "intervention". This doesn't work with strangers let alone parents who raised you and changed your diapers.

You need to
1) Try to build a relationship with them where you can have frank discussions with them, without preaching.
2) NEVER tell someone, esp your parents they need to do something. If you have a good relationship with them, you can develop the discussions into a "here's what I think makes sense" and hint/suggest/cajole them to your point of view.

I think most of what you are talking probably stems into the financial realm. Here's my suggestion. Rave about a great show called Suze Orman show. Try to get them to watch it regularly. Regardless of what you think about Suze Orman, this is the ONLY financial show I know of that openly shows personal finances of strangers. This is vital. If you keep seeing that people have $X in retirement by such and such an age given their income, and compare it to yourself, eventually you'll get the idea. And the most important thing is that the show is often fun to watch, almost like a reality TV show cos it is someone's reality.

I'm not a shill for Suze Orman, but I love her show even if I disagree on somethings she says, the basics of financial planning is there. Talking about finances may be boring so watching a TV show about the same subject presented for mass audiences is the best for many.

PS. Of course everything I'm saying takes time to develop or to sink in. If you need an immediate fix, sorry, I don't really have a solution.

I skimmed. I have so many thoughts to share. And they may sound a bit harsh. In a nutshell, my mom lost it. She was just well enough that I couldn't force her to stay in a safe situation. She was a brittle diabetic driving around the country using her car as a bed and bathroom. She got gangrene so bad it went all the way thru her foot before she finally felt it. I managed to get her in a group home for a year, then she got out and escaped adult protective services.
We were finally able to force the situation when she was in a diabetic coma. We thought she would die, and she is a tough old gal and didn't. I managed to keep her in a nursing home and safe until her heart gave out two years later. Through all this, she refused to write a living will or regular will. I was lucky in that JHU Hospital respected the verbal instructions she had given me after her mom died 30 years before. I had a living will and was the one to ask for all things medically related.
It was emotionally exhausting to a level I cannot express here. The advice I can share with you is this. You are at a point in your life where YOU are the PARENT of 2 young children. It is you and your wife's responsibility to protect them and guide them as they grow. You two need to decide how much of this behavior from the grand parents you want them exposed to. I will also share with you that my son figured out my mother was nuts and didn't want to be around her by the time he was 5. We did everything we could to hide the negative from him. Kids are perceptive.
As for your folks, you can't change them. Please don't make yourself emotionally exhausted by trying. The best thing you can do is make it clear that you do not want certain behaviors around your children and if they cannot control themselves, their visits will be curtailed. Then stick to your guns no matter who pushes for you to relent. This is tough love and maybe, your folks will respect you as a parent enough to abide by your wishes. I wish you all the best and send me a pm if you wish to chat more.

I am going to come back to this thread as it has great personal resonance for me. I want to post some thoughts.

tl;dr

I gave up and abandoned my parents to let them rot in their own illogically chosen mistakes. Both me and my brother tried for years but they won't listen. Moving across the country and not calling them has helped a bit too.

I've learned the hard way that you can't save people from themselves.

I suppose that doesn't mean you still shouldn't try.

I have no advice or anything useful to add, but threads like this do help remind me how incredibly lucky I am to have the parents that I do. While there are problems with the relationship with my dad, they are not as extreme.

I wish you the best. All of you.

Ghostship wrote:

Without throwing this all out into the internet, anyone addressed drinking with their parents?

With this and everything else, what kind of traction you get really depends on the parent. When I was little my brother told my grandfather, a proud and long-time pipe smoker, that he should stop smoking his pipe because it could make him sick. The man stopped immediately, tossed everything, and never smoked again. But this is the only example I can point to of a parent or grandparent changing their behavior based on concern from a child. Generally the most you can accomplish is to set rules for your own home or regarding your own kids that the parent must follow. But that isn't asking for a lifestyle change so much as that they simply respect your rules when under your roof or with your kids. Still, it does provide an opportunity to open a broader discussion. As for that though, what approach might work depends entirely on their personality and the relationship you have with them. In many cases you have to decide whether you're willing to sacrifice the relationship to accomplish that goal or whether you're willing to let it go.

When I was in primary school I used to nag my grandparents constantly about wearing their seatbelts, because they said they never remembered/it was too much trouble/cars didn't used to have them anyway/etc. A few years later they were in a rollover accident while on vacation, and were left hanging from their... hey, seatbelts! until the police arrived. No complaints after that.

So I'm firmly in the dripping-water camp of changing your elders' habits, but like people have said, they have to be at least marginally receptive to what you're saying, even if they don't want to do it. Otherwise you have to just walk away for a while and hope they wise up, possibly as a condition of maintaining a relationship with you.

Depends on what you're trying to accomplish and what you value. At the least, you should be honest and let them know where they're coming from. Proceed from love or just being honestly concerned, as stated above. If they have any respect, they'll honor your intent. If they're setting a bad example for or harming you or your family by proxy, do what you gotta. You don't need anyone's permission to protect you and yours, and by the same individualist principles, they'll have to honor that. The key is identifying the potential for harm. And it's much harder to see that from the inside. At least you seem to be seeing straight.

I held my parents and siblings hands through 3 divorces, spousal abuse, infidelity, depression, cancer, substance abuse, bankruptcy and prison. Most of which they inflicted on themselves or each other and I still think all of them are pretty decent people deep down. I hardly believe my dad ever drove sober up until the day he died. My high school age sister had to drive him to work when he got his ticket pulled for DUI. And even then, I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to 'tell him how to live his life' and let him continue to behave how he behaved. Once that ran to its logical conclusion, I became the man of the family at the age of 35. So..

At the least their health and well being is on the line. At the worst, lives.

..if you believe this, open your mouth. It's your family too. Good luck.

Ghostship wrote:

Without throwing this all out into the internet, anyone addressed drinking with their parents?

Let's just say that there are a number of things that are leading to, "you need to change this or we have to severely limit how you are a part of our lives." There is already drama, paranoia, ridiculous grudges and hard feelings. It makes family gatherings unbearably difficult. Someone is always spooning out the guilt or bitter resentment. It's one two way street in particular, but it affects everyone.

For me it's my grandmother and my mother's sisters that have the drinking problem. It's got bad enough now that two of my mother's sisters got in a fist fight with each other on the front lawn after waaayyy too many drinks. One of them cut back a little after that, the other drinks so much, and eats so little that when she broker her ankle a few months back (fell off the porch while drunk) she found out that her bones are becoming soft and losing density at rate normally only seen in the very elderly.

She's 55.

We did an intervention style talk with both of them - just letting them know that we were concerned about their health, that we were all here if either of them needed help etc. We were trying not to be too judgemental, but we weren't willing to just let them drink themselves to death either. That worked for a little while, the one with the broken ankle even got into therapy and stopped drinking for a few months and seemed to be doing OK.

They are both back at it. One quit therapy and drinks her way through several bottles of wine a day, not eating properly if at all, and smoking heavily to boot. My other aunt isn't too far behind in that dep't. Both are unhappily married, one to a guy who puts away the better part of a large bottle of whisky everyday and is usually high as kite, and the other to a douchebag of epic proportions.

Even more unfortunate, my Grandmother has become a nasty and belligerent drunk and a few months ago called me while drunk and ranted about a lot of things - and was rude, argumentative, insulting and nasty to me. She'd never behaved like that toward me before and I was pretty shocked that my nice, well-manned, very proper and polite Grandmother could be such a cow to anyone, let alone her granddaughter.

We haven't really spoken much since.

My approach, and my mother's to a lesser degree, is to simply back off. We've talked to her and my aunts, expressed our concern in as loving a way as we could so as not to be offensive and let them know that our worry was out of love, not a need to control. They could care less what we think. So as much as it hurts to watch them self-destruct, we've had to back off. We still see them occasionally, we are still in contact, but it's not the same, it's not as open or trusting as it once was. And when they get drunk and nasty, we leave after letting them know - in very clear but polite terms - that we refuse to put up with their abusive behaviour or be a part of the drunk spectacle and drama they create.

If your parents don't want to change - even once you let them know why you're worried, and your concern is out of love - they won't. That's hard to hear, hard to accept, but it's true. They just won't. All you can do is protect yourself from the harm they might cause to you and your family. It will hurt to have to back away from the relationship you want/once had with them, and it will hurt even more to wonder what happened to the people you thought you knew. They may still be in there somewhere, but until they are ready to change, all you can do is have a care for your own heart and well-being and that of your family's.

I don't envy the position you're in, and if you ever want chat, hit me up with a PM and we can Skype or something. *hugs*

I started by basically telling parables.

wordsmythe wrote:

I started by basically telling parables.

Mom, dad, There once was a man from Nantucket...