We have a new grandson. It is of course, joyful and exciting for grandma and grandpa. Even more so for the parents, and on top of their happiness and new worries, exhaustion. I remember moving through those sleep-deprived days as if it were yesterday.
In the next two months our two youngest children are getting married. More excitement and joy, along with numerous and sometimes fast changing details. I am not complaining about this fierce abundance, but I admit it has caused some reflection on aging. A recent note to self, after watching my oldest grandson, is caring for a two-year old at sixty-seven feels different than my body remembers it.
Managing expectations is a primary ingredient of healthy relationships.
If our expectations are either too high or too low, or in any way inappropriate to the person or the relationship, it leads to tension, conflict, and sometimes alienation. The antidote is conversation about what we can and cannot expect. An example all of us can relate to from one side or the other, is the parent and child relationship.
As our children age, we as parents need to constantly renegotiate our roles with them. Children, adolescents, and young adults go through rapid changes they may not even be aware of at the time. Parents – having been there and done that – ought to be highly aware of the gyrations our children go through in each of their various decades. This dance requires us to move back, to the side, and even away from our children from time to time. We lead the dance, in other words, for many years.
But then, we the parents, age and our children move into slower, more stable decades of development. As we get older, we may lose some self-awareness of our situation and capacities, while our children are able to see those changes taking place on our bodies and minds. So they will begin to lead the dance.
It may be a long dance, so the more graceful and fluid the change of leadership the better for both parents and children. Eventually though, if we live long enough, our children will have to figure out how to manage the relationship so that we have independence and dignity yet still an appropriate level of care and security. We, the parents, may have to figure out how to be willing followers.
It is a back and forth dance, and if we never talk about our expectations for one another, it can be very clumsy and even become hostile. Talking out loud and thinking about our expectations — what is fair and appropriate given the circumstances of our lives, relationships, and capabilities — can make all the difference with how healthy and vibrant our relationships are.
Both my parents are gone now, but I can remember watching them age, and adjusting my expectations for them. Looking back, I think I may have been slow to realize it on more than one occasion.
Now my dog is aging, she just turned forty-nine in people years. Sometimes we look each other in the eyes as if to say, “get going old man” or “get a move on old girl.” We’re working at adjusting to new realities, too.