A new study has found that a majority of relationships between parents and their adult children improve as parents transition to old age.
The study, led by Karen Fingerman, an associate professor of developmental and family studies in the College of Consumer and Family Sciences at Purdue University, examined the ways in which adults aged 40-60 helped to meet the needs of both their grown children and elderly parents.
In the study, the relationships, which adults aged 70 and older had with at least one of their adult offspring were analysed. The parents examined suffered either vision or hearing loss or were seeking help with general health care from one of their children.
"Much has been written about relationships between adult children who are in a care-giving relationship with their older and dependent parents," Fingerman said.
"This time when parents are transitioning to old age and still living without major assistance has not been looked at as closely," Fingerman added. Fingerman said that in the study that a majority of parents and children mentioned positive changes in their relationship, even as parents experienced declines in health.
"Both parents and children reported significantly less ambivalence than we originally expected. Generally, there was a feeling on both sides that this was as good as the relationship had been, and both sides felt appreciated and nurtured," Fingerman said.
In the study, many of the parents talked about continuity in the relationship and, rather than resentment, expressed appreciation for increased help from children. The researcher said that almost half of participants reported changes in the relationship, often related to tense interactions involving parental health.
"Some children reported pestering their parents more about health issues and being unsure if parents were ignoring them," Fingerman said. "While we expected that children might feel demanded upon or stressed by their parents' health declines, most of the participants focused on positive changes, such as trying harder to spend time together or talking more or feeling closer and appreciated," Fingerman said.
The researcher added that children were more likely to refer to declines in parental health, nearly half of adult children participating compared to just over a third of parents, than their parents. Both sides talked about increased assistance from children and the emotions associated with that.
Fingerman said the research gives hope to parents and their adult children who are trying to adjust to the new demands parental aging can have on relationships.
"We must realize that parents don't go from being middle-aged to old and helpless. Parents and children are adjusting relatively well to the fact that parents are just not capable in the ways they once were," Fingerman said.
The study is published in the journal Advances in Life Course Research.