Parents are supposed to be the few people in our lives who are able to see our endless potential and immense opportunity to shine. Our parents are the ones that are supposed to raise us up to be responsible adults, and who are able to set us free so that we can experience the wings of our own responsibility and live a successful, abundant and satisfying life. For many people – most people – this is true when they are young. Your parents nurture you into learning about the world and have high hopes and expectations for you to make the most out of your life. However, for many adult children, this type of independent living, where parents encourage their children to live separate lives – comes to an end.
This can occur at many different stages in life. According to study out of Harvard University, around 36% of all college students feel that their parents are holding them back in on way or another. For younger adults, the holding back comes in the form of monetary participation. Since the parents have the money or are providing financial assistance – young adults feel are made to feel guilty and therefore dependant upon their parents. In return for the guilt, may be missed opportunities to travel out of town, or to make decisions that will cause separation between the parents and child.
Even more common, is the situation where aging parents begin becoming dependant upon their adult children for life essentials. For instance, when an illness strikes or the death of a spouse occurs, or life throws the parents a curveball, they transform from nurturing independence to guilting it. The “honor they mother and they father” biblical verse is utilized to make adult children feel dutifully responsible for their parents. Dad had back surgery and now suddenly cannot get his own mail, and asks that you drive the 20 miles to his house each and every day to do it for him. Or mom, living alone is unable to mow her grass, and expects you to spend your Saturday afternoons tending to her yard.
When does it become too much? When does helping your parents cross the line into your parents holding you back? Do you ever feel like your parents are holding you back?
Being held back can show its face in many ways. From asking for too many favors around the house, to making too many phone calls – to needing financial assistance – it is quite common for role reversal to occur with parents as they age. According to Psychology Today, the over dependence on adult children becomes a problem when the adult child feels burdened, guilty or overly resentful about the requested assistance. And often, aging parents are in the midst of life changes of their own that completely disable them to remember that their children are separate beings, with separate lives – from them. The asking in and of itself, is a result of the strong attachments formed between parent and child in the months even before the child was born. It is these parent child attachments that seem to resurface in the latter years which cause many older parents to hold their children back from their own success.
One term that many people do not often hear of until later in life is filial maturity. Filial maturity is reached when an adult child is able to recognize their parents as individuals as well. Reaching filial maturity, is an important step in not being taken advantage of by your aging parents. Because when you reach filial maturity, you are able to not just recognize that you are a separate being from your parents, but that your parents are also responsible for their lives instead of YOU. So instead of rushing over to mow the grass, scheduling every aspect of your life around your parents – you feel okay (and not guilty) about your detachment to your parents. When the guilt about NOT being a sole provider of your parent is resolved, you will be able to make solution-based decisions about their needs that are balanced between your desire to help – and your desire to have some autonomy of your own.
If your parents are holding you back by asking too much of you, making you feel guilty for not providing ‘something’ that they need all the time – despite the fact that the requests are felt as unreasonable to you – you have to learn how to break through your attachment to your parents. Instead of offering your assistance, offer the assistance of helping them hire someone to mow their lawn, or paying a neighbor child to get the mail every day. While it instinctive and nurturing for you to feel responsible and indebted to your parents for all they have done for you, you have to realize that your own life and happiness is important as well. In fact, it should remain most important.
This doesn’t mean that adult children should cut their parents off, or refuse to be taken advantage of, or even NEVER over-indulge a little. However, becoming a beck and call adult child, when you have a life of your own to carry out, and children of your own to raise, and relationships to tend to – is unfair of your parents in the first place.
Life never remains the same. The phase of life you are in right now, will be totally transformed in a decade from now. And the same is true for our parents – no matter how invincible they seem to be. Their intentions of course, will not be to hold you back or to ask too much – but instead to savor the time they have left with you. That being said, it is important to understand as an adult child that love is neither proven nor conditional on what you provide for your parents. And the adult child – parent relationship will benefit from balance and honesty, more than it will from one person feeling like they are being taken advantage of.