When does a parent finally arrive at that season where it’s all about them and not all about their children—or at least a balance? This SENIORita hasn’t arrived there yet. It’s probably not realistic especially now that grandchildren are in the spotlight. The older we get the more our lifestyle choices differ. The generational gap seems to widen. The challenge: How do adult children balance showing love to their parents while making a way for themselves, and ultimately raising a family of their own?
Are you willing to make this a priority? As a woman of faith, I answer “Yes, because God said so!” If it’s not on your What Matters Most list, then a hit or miss approach to showing love to your parents will not be as effective. As children we learn to take our parents for granted, after all, we depend on them to take care of us. This mindset continues into adulthood unless we become intentional about adjusting our expectations. “But I just don’t have the time!” you say. You do. If it matters to you, schedule it. Be intentional.
What does showing love to your parents look like? This will be different for each of us. I remember my mother would say “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.” While it’s true that my personal success brought her peace, it was not enough over time. As my parents aged, their needs changed. Expressions of love became simpler—more about security and well-being. Attempts to love them the way “I wanted to be loved” failed miserably. Taking them out to a fancy restaurant was not as significant to them as joining them at their favorite place. Nothing brought my Dad more joy than showing me off to his friends at his favorite restaurant. I had to invest time to learn about them, what mattered to them, what worried them, what brought them joy. So, I focused on them.
Begin with a heart of gratitude. Parenting is not for sissies and it also does not come with a Best Practices Manual. Parents make mistakes and sometimes it costs us years of therapy to recover from them; love and forgive them anyway. The best way to show love to our parents is to accept them as they are and thank them for the gift of life. If you struggle in this area be reminded that “Love never fails,” as told to us in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Make way for God’s love to work through you. His love never fails.
Seek their wisdom. Parents offer a perspective on life that you will never have. They have been there, and done that. Why not ask for their opinion? Get beyond the “I’m a grownup now; I can do it myself,” and at least consider the possibility that wisdom comes with age and experience. Nothing touches this Mima’s heart more than a request for counsel. You don’t have to agree with my answer—it’s “in the asking” that you show love.
Call home. Love shows up through an unexpected thinking-about-you phone call from my son. “What? You were thinking about me?” So simple and yet, without intention we can forget to make it happen. I remember the day my grandkids learned how to call their Mima. They just wanted to talk; had nothing to say, but wanted to connect. What joy! Only eight and 10 years of age today, it won’t be long before they are too busy. If you have children teach them to love on their grandparents by staying connected.
Drop by. If you live close by, unexpected or planned visits are a huge deposit in the Parent Love Bank. Sometimes we just over complicate things. A visit can be short… perhaps a 15-minute visit to share a cup of coffee, to hang a picture frame, to go for a walk or even just to sit in silence. Impromptu dinners work as well. Something like, “Hey Mom, Dad we are thinking of Chinese food for dinner—how about we pick some up for you and bring it over?” Technology has created a wonderful way to connect through video conference calls. Consider a family get together over the internet; that counts as a drop by!
Show them off. Bring them into your social world and show them off. Speak well of them. My parents’ legacy is a ridiculous work ethic. Blue collar workers with minimal education—they sacrificed so that I could have, and be more. Thanks to their efforts I learned to make a way for myself. My career took me to places they knew nothing about. Over time, they did not “fit in” with my world. So? My lesson learned: Teach your world to love and respect your parents; let the world see the value of their generation, and in my case their Cuban culture. When you invite them to your social events, make sure to bring them into the center of conversations. Yes, at times they may say or do things that will make you cringe. It’s those memories that will make you laugh after they’re gone. This daughter would give anything to experience another one of those embarrassing moments.
Allow them to show you off. Nothing pleased my mother more than to “drop by” with her friends to show them her daughter’s home. Seriously annoying back then, I totally get it now. Consider entering your parents’ social circle. Perhaps you can ask them to bring a friend with them to your next family dinner?
Look out for them. This is tricky. Aging parents want to keep their independence and are often in denial about what they can or cannot do for themselves. Personally, I did not see my parents’ lack-of-independence coming. I was so busy with my own life that I didn’t notice they had not prepared themselves for living into their 90s. Spend time learning more about their quality of life needs. Remember what you want for yourself is not necessarily what they want and appreciate. Help them anticipate and plan. Let them know you will be there for them. Let them keep their dignity… they are entitled to it.
So much more… The more I write on this subject the more my heart overflows—so much love to give, and so many ways to show love. I pray I’ve been able to open your eyes to the possibilities. There is so much more to say, but it’s now your turn to say it. I invite you to be creative—show up as only you can and experience the gift of unconditional love. Love your parents even though they may struggle to receive it… do it anyway.
“Honor your father and mother…” Ephesians 6:2