Joshua Coleman remembers watering down a glass of wine before giving it to his father, then in his 90s.
“What the hell is this?” he recalls his father asking.
“I feel a little guilty about that now,” says Dr. Coleman, whose father died in 2001. “The poor old guy had few remaining pleasures left. But I would have felt bad had he gone back to assisted living and slipped.”
There’s a fine line between being an appropriately concerned adult child and an overly worried, helicopter one, says Dr. Coleman, a psychologist who specializes in family dynamics. If a parent is in an accident, it might be time to talk about driving, as he did after his father sideswiped three cars. But if Mom doesn’t want to wear a hearing aid, it might be wise not to nag. Maybe she doesn’t want to listen to anyone at the moment.
A big question adult children need to ask is whether they are intervening for their parents’ well-being or to alleviate their own worries, says William Doherty, a family therapist and professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. “If your 80-year-father is still driving, you worry,” even if he is capable of driving, he says. “If he’s not driving, you don’t worry, but your father has had a big loss.”
During her career as a clinical psychologist, Laura Carstensen, who is also founding director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, heard from both sides. Parents wanted advice on how to get their kids off their back. Adult children wanted advice on how to persuade their parents to give up their family home.
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