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Parental Relationships, Sibling Rivalry, and Fear of Asking for Help

The familiar saying “you can choose your friends but not your family” becomes a glaring reality when adult parents might benefit significantly from a little assistance. The situation may not only be that adult children are concerned about the demands of caring for parents but that adult siblings simply may not get along and refuse to work together in providing assistance for parents.

How do families arrive at a point where parents and adult children prefer to avoid each other and simply say, “I’m done?”  Relationship challenges may date back to childhood dynamics that grew increasingly more difficult over time. One child may have been favored by parents and the other children in the family were jealous. One child may have competed for the attention of parents by achieving good grades or excelling at sports while another child failed to possess these talents — and struggled to make good grades or was ridiculed by brothers, sisters, and other children for not being physically strong, fast, or coordinated.

Some families simply become ambivalent as adult children move away from parents and contact becomes less frequent. While many families remain in contact, other family members question the value of making an effort to gather when there is not an emotional connection to make the excursion enjoyable — the annual family gathering is dreaded and eventually avoided.

After years of avoidance, it becomes difficult for adult children to reverse the prior path, to forgive, and to show up at a family event without being asked a thousand questions of where the child has been and why he or she has avoided family all these years. Rather than face this line of questioning, it is much easier to just stay away.

Add the complication of marriage and situations where a parent may not like a son- or daughter-in-law. This factor complicates many adult child-parent relationships. There are situations where the son or daughter will visit without their spouse because the interaction is too stressful.

Just the opposite are parental situations where adult children could be more helpful but may have criticized or become impatient with a parent when attempting to provide assistance. This negative experience results in the parent hesitating to ask again for assistance for fear of another negative interaction. The reality is that most, if not all parents, would benefit from simple support long before more advanced care is needed.

I know this because my parents would have benefited from greater assistance earlier in life. They did not ask. I made the assumption they were able to manage and later discovered, after my mother’s death, all of the tasks for which I could have provided assistance that would have made the daily lives of my parents so much easier. A recent visit with very dear older friends brought back memories of my parents and 20:20 vision of my experience with my parents.


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