Worried older parents


Many parents worry about their children even when those children become adults. In a study published in The Gerontologist, parents of adult children still feel stress and lie awake at night concerned about those children.

It’s no surprise that adults worry about their young children. It’s also no surprise that the teen years bring stress into the household. But many, maybe most, parents believe that when their children reach that magical age of “adulthood,” they will be able to relax, rest, and enjoy a stress-free life. Maybe not.

Lead study author Amber J. Seidel, Ph.D., of Penn State York in Pennsylvania, is a family gerontologist and said she got involved with the research because she believes family relationships are so important to society.

According to a CBS report, “For the study, the researchers examined data on 186 heterosexual married couples who had, on average, two to three adult children. The men in the couples were about 58 years old, on average, and the women closer to 57.

The researchers asked the parents to rate the different types of support they offer their adult children on a scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being daily and 8 being no more than once a year. Types of support included companionship, emotional support, practical help, discussing daily events, advice, and financial assistance.

The parents also rated how stressful they find it to help their adult children, and how much they worry about their adult children, on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being “a great deal.”

Additionally, the participants reported the amount of sleep they got each night. The husbands reported sleeping an average of 6.69 hours a night, while the wives slept about 6.66 hours.

The results showed that for husbands, the support that they provided their grown children was associated with poorer sleep; conversely, the husbands slept more when their wives reported providing support for the kids. No such impact was seen on the women’s sleep.

However, for the women, higher stress about supporting their children did appear to impair their sleep. Stress levels over this issue did not appear to affect how much the husbands slept.

Overall, the study found that the giving of support itself affected the men, while stress over the support was what affected the women.

Seidel says the results may be a side effect of how involved many parents are with their grown children’s lives these days.”

Seidel notes that, while parents often stay connected to their children, that modern older parents seem to be staying much more connected than previous generations. Because of this and the ever-presence of social media, cell phones, and email, parents have much greater insight into what is going on in their adult children’s lives.

In other words, they know much more about the inner workings of their kid’s families than parents have ever known before. This causes more concern which leads to greater stress in the older parents. This increased stress often leads to sleep loss which, in turn, adds to the stress.

From my observation, adult children are often all too eager to involve their parents in their problems. When I left home at 19 and married at 20, with a first child at 21, I told my parents almost nothing about our financial problems, marital spats, and job stresses. I simply did not want them to know.

When I did bring problems to their attention, I felt like a failure. And, when my dad offered to help, it was always with a lecture. After the last lecture, I never asked for help or shared the inner workings of my family at all.

Years ago, one lady shared with me that her daughter told her every time she and her young husband had sex. The mom thought it was good that her daughter trusted her that much. I thought it was terrible that the daughter would share such intimate details and a bit creepy that the mom had an interest in the couple’s sex life.

That’s not to say that my folks, or my in-laws, never helped. In our early days, both were there for us, and especially my wife’s parents helped a great deal. But, for me, it was always a last resort.

The time came, thankfully, when we were independent adults and were able to stand on our own — at least as far as our parents knew. I’d like to think that they didn’t lose any sleep over us during the last several decades.

And some help is simply not healthy. Seidel suggests in the report that, “… parents reflect on their level of involvement in their adult child’s life, how their child is receiving it, and whether they are enabling their child, seeking to control their child, or providing support.” Parents who are seeking to control their children do them no favors and neither do those who continually enable them to be continuously dependent on them.

Two of my three sons, along with their families, have, at various times and for sundry reasons, lived with us after they were married. We were glad to help. But we always saw this help as temporary and a stop-gap measure.

It was just a fact, and one that I shared with my sons, that they would never be the head of their homes as long as they lived in mine. Today, those two sons and their families live in the same county we do and I feel that we are close.

But, for the most part, I don’t lose sleep anymore over their problems. The other son and his family live across the country so I just assume that they have no problems because I don’t hear about them if they do.

Seidel says that further study is needed. Perhaps what is really needed is that parents allow their children the room to succeed or fail. Be there when the need is real, but let them live their own lives without excessive interference. I could sleep on that.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]