What Help Do Aging Parents Want from Their Adult Children?

The topic comes up often with our baby boomer clients: “Mom and Dad are getting older and they seem to need more help. We’re not sure how much is too much to get involved.” Adult children have the best of intentions of providing assistance to their adult parents without invading their privacy, but it is fine line to walk. A study conducted by public-health professor Mary Gallant and sociologist Glenna Spitze from the State University of New York at Albany in 2004 explored the very issue of what aging parents really want from their adult children. Their research team conducted actual interviews with focus groups of older adults and this is what they found:

  • Aging parents who live independently wish for both connection and autonomy in relation to their adult children; most did not feel a need for assistance from their children.
  • Most seniors desire control over their lives; at the same time, they want their children to intervene and offer help, if they express a need for assistance.
  • Aging parents, while they may express some resistance to help offered by their adult children, do appreciate the help they are providing.
  • Aging parents want to be treated as normal adults, not as incompetent individuals.
  • Adult children need to understand that their aging parents my use a variety of strategies to deal with their ambivalent feelings toward receiving help; such as minimizing the help, or ignoring or resisting their children’s attempts to control situations.

It is important to remember that as your parents may need more assistance over time, it is still most important to let them lead the decisions that guide their lives as they age for as long as possible. So, unless there is an immediate threat to your parent’s health or wellness, it is best to allow them to be in control of their own decisions, while providing support as needed.

Here are just a few helpful hints when it comes to communicating with your older adult parent:

  • Show respect. Always speak to your parent with respect; it will go a long way toward getting your point across.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Let your parents do as much as they can and don’t make a big deal over small issues. Unless it is a threat to their health, safety or finances…let it go!
  • Make suggestions instead of giving orders. Just like with your teenagers, asking questions about how they feel about something and about what they might need and allowing them to come to their own conclusions often work better than giving orders. Giving orders makes your parents feel like they are the children and like they are no longer in control.
  • If you think your parents can still do something, let them do it: It is like the old adage – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. However, if you think they are not capable or could be harmed by doing something on their own, don’t feel guilty by stepping in and stopping them!
  • Stop and think before you respond. If your aging parent spouts off and says something hurtful, stop and think before you respond; saying something mean in return will only make both of you feel worse!
  • Think about how you would want to be treated. After all…you will be the aging parent one day!

Maintaining strong family relationships is something we all strive for, and it becomes more challenging when we are put in a position of needing to provide assistance for our aging parents. If you or anyone you know needs assistance in this area, please let us know.  We are always happy to help!

Sandra Adams, CFP® , CeFT™ is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Sandy specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and is a frequent speaker on related topics. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered, she is regularly quoted in national media publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine and Journal of Financial Planning.


This information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed are those of Sandra Adams and are not necessarily those of Raymond James.