Hello everybody, welcome to episode 53 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we answer your questions on life. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
We’re changing gears a little today. We’ve got a question that addresses a new topic — aging parents and the concern we all face about making sure their remaining years are good years. So let’s open our ears and listen to what this viewer had to ask…
QUESTION: “I am a middle-aged woman who is concerned that her aging father is not doing enough with his remaining years. Greg, I am worried about my father who doesn’t do much with his time any more. He’s 78, his health is fine, but where is his ambition? He used to do a lot with his life, and now he doesn’t work, doesn’t chase after anything. He has some friends he sees, works around the yard some, and spends time on his boat. There is very little aside from that, and I’m concerned that his mind is going to suffer if he doesn’t keep more active. I don’t want to tell him what to do, but I feel like this is a problem I should speak up about.”
The Parent-Child Cycle
All right, there we have it. More uncharted territory here on the show as we haven’t discussed aging parents yet, so thank you for adding some new flavor and trusting us with this dilemma.
Actually, this is now the second episode in a row in which I’m currently dealing with a similar situation. My Dad had me quite late in life so he’s also up around that age, and from the way you’re describing it, it sounds they have similar lifestyles. My Dad is more of a golf guy than a boat guy, but we oughta get them together sometime
Anyway, the parent-child cycle is interesting, isn’t it? Depending on the circumstances, a lot of adults, especially around your age, find themselves sort of returning the favor and taking care of their parents when they can no longer take care of themselves, just as they took care of us when we couldn’t take care of OURselves.
Usually, it’s helping them with physical stuff, but it often goes beyond that. It seems pretty evident in how you posed the question that you’re looking after your father in a way that is parent-like in terms of his emotional or mental wellbeing. This is very noble and shows your care for your father, but you have to understand that your father is still capable of taking care of himself in many ways, and therefore, there are more boundaries you have to respect than there would be if his health was not as good.
Yes, there’s a lot of talk about keeping one’s mind active after retirement in order to live longer and happier, but trying to police your father TOO much in this way is more likely to drive a stake between you two than anything.
Time Perspective in the Elderly
We all act based on the future we see for ourselves, and for an aging or elderly person, that future is very different than what you or I envision.
Sure, each elderly person is different, but it seems to me that you, and many of us, are disregarding the basic differences between the elderly and someone who is much younger. Typically, as people age and become increasingly aware of their time left, the more they’re willing to plateau.
I’m sure you can acknowledge how much more simplicity you prefer to have in your life now versus when you were 20, and that process will continue until your last breath, as it will for all of us. So when that last breath comes closer and is being considered on perhaps a daily basis, the desire for and comfort in simplicity has peaked. It’s very common for someone in our father’s age bracket to be more than happy with these simplistic lifestyles and not desire the rush of ambition the way they used to — the way that you do now.
And though it’s well-intentioned, you’re ultimately putting your own ideals about ambition on your aging father, the same way most people with a parenting mentality would.
As with any parenting relationship, parents must guide their subjects rather than enforce. They must communicate and seek to understand. I’m not accusing you of not being willing to do that with your father, but you acknowledged yourself that you’ve not yet spoken up about this. And if you’ve not spoken up about this, you probably have limited insight as to how he feels about his life in terms of both happiness and mental exertion.
Seeking Happiness in Old Age
Your father might be very happy doing what he’s doing. I know my father is, as are his friends from what he tells me.
Again, comparatively speaking, it seems like they both fall into very normal behavior for people that age. Your father certainly doesn’t seem to be doing significantly less than others in his age group. I know your concern seems more about how busy he’s keeping his mind, but he might be keeping his mind plenty active, too:
Seeing friends means socializing and getting out of the house, something those of us who aren’t retired often wish we had more of for the sake of our mental health. Working around the yard requires your Dad to use his body and get in touch with nature, something that is undoubtedly beneficial for mental health.
Not to mention whatever mini projects he could have going on around the yard. Building a garden, for example, can be a process that requires a lot of planning and precision work. Even the time your Dad spends on his boat could be very mentally stimulating for him depending on the waters he’s going out on, the maintenance he puts into his boat, and so on.
Until you talk to him about these things, you really won’t know how he feels about his lifestyle or the degree to which it challenges him. You’ll only have your ideas which, frankly, you’re seeing much more through your own lens than you are through his.
Express Your Concerns Gently
As both a caring child to your father and an anxiety-ridden adult to yourself, you can and should gently express your concerns to your father.
Maybe you’ll open his eyes up to new possibilities, or maybe HE’LL open YOUR eyes up to new possibilities.
The priority should be to respect your father’s choices, let him know you care about him, communicate with him, and do what you can to maintain a good relationship with him while he’s still here.
If you’re concerned about him having meaning in his life and something he’s excited to wake up for, a good relationship with his child is one of the things that is most likely to provide him with those.
That’s gonna do it for today, everybody.
Thank you for sending in this question, I hope my answer helped and I hope everyone out there was able to get through my rambling. Even when we have the best of intentions for someone, we need to be careful with how we present those intentions, and remember that our perceptions of our intentions will not necessarily be the same as other people’s perceptions of our intentions.
That’s kind of a puzzle isn’t it? I’m gonna stop there.
Guys, feel free to send your questions in to us via email. We’re at firstname.lastname@example.org
Send us your questions, we’ll do our best to answer them here on the show, and we’ll send you a free book from our collection if you’d like one. Hope you’ll stop in for next episode, and I’ll talk to you then.