One clear sign of maturity in life is realising what we have been taken for granted is not what can be taken for granted. This includes the source of our life itself.
Growing in maturity leads us to understand the minds and hearts of our parents with deeper empathy. But when it finally happens, we are often confronted by the reality that there isn’t much time left with our aging parents. Instead of making the rest of their life memorable, adult children often commit some form of elder abuse - whether knowingly or not.
Elder abuse is not specific to any one gender, religion, ethnicity or culture. It comes in many forms: psychological, financial, physical or neglect. It can be as subtle as hurts caused by disregarding their wishes or avoiding them for a long time. In New Zealand, over 75% of elder abusers are their own family members, mainly adult children and their partners.
Here is a question to ponder: how can we better spend the time left now so we don’t regret what we have or haven’t done after our parents are gone?
Seeing them in a new light
Most parents love their children deeply and want to do their best for them. Even the ‘bad’ parents do express love in some way from what they know. Tensions arise when their mode of expression is different to what we like or expect. But trying to understand the world they grew up in and values they hold can often do wonders and even miracles in our relationships.
For those who are parents themselves would know that they can willingly sacrifice their own needs for the sake of their children. The happiness and joy the children bring in return is so transcending. In one sense, children actually train the parents to grow in maturity by increasing their capability to give unconditional love to another human beings.
In the same way, it is what makes our own parents so special. Our parents are the givers of this transcending love, whether we think they have given it or not. We are the recipients of this love, whether we think we have received it fully or not. Trying to see them in a new light is the ‘master key’ that unlocks many closed doors in our lives.
Cure for elder abuse
As we grow older, we often think our parents are too old-fashioned, narrow-minded, too backwards and even irritating. While some of these interpretations might be true, we need to be mindful that our lack of acceptance or tolerance can lead to elder abuse.
Recently I have witnessed a situation where elderly parents were cut off from family Christmas dinner because of a small mistake they made. The couple distanced themselves from them ever since and ignored their plea to reconcile. The elderly father desperately tried to communicate with his daughter by email, but her partner intervened and requested him to stop contacting her with harsh remarks.
To be silenced, ignored or denied contact with your own children is the most depleting, devastating and demeaning thing imaginable. The harmful mental and emotional damage this can take on a human spirit, particularly on the elderly, is not to be taken lightly.
The panacea for elder abuse starts with heart-to-heart conversations. “I upset you that time, right?” “I was upset then, because of this or that.” “But now, when I look back, I can see now that it was because you loved us.” This kind of dialogue will help us to restore respect for each other, resolve any misunderstandings and increase our capacity to give and receive forgiveness - before it is too late.
Unlike most other human relationships, we didn’t get to choose our biological parents when we were born. It was binding from the beginning. Since this relationship is unchangeable, wouldn’t it be better to make an effort to give them joy rather than hurt, no matter how deserving we think they are? We simply need to do our part and the rest will come.
The most beautiful gift
What is the most beautiful gift we can give to our parents before they leave us? Taking them on a trip or nice restaurant or giving them delightful gifts are all well and good. But these things are all passing away. Is there something even greater?
Perhaps the best gift we can ever give to our parents is letting them know that they are still so precious to us even when they are frail and old. Even when they have nothing much left to give us and instead need our help, making them feel that they are loved and respected is the most uplifting gift that warms up their heart and rejuvenates their soul.
When the time comes to say goodbye, parents who have truly received this beautiful gift know that their life was worth living simply because they are being cherished and honoured by their children.
Trying to see our parents in a new light, having heart-to-heart conversations more often and showing appreciation for them when they are old will culminate in the most beautiful gift of all.
And no one has ever regretted doing so.
Daniel Jang is a senior advisor with Ministry of Health New Zealand. He is an experienced writer, speaker and mentor to Press Service International (PSI) community. Daniel holds an MA in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and GradDip in Theology from Laidlaw College.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html