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When elderly parents want to be our children.... - Carers UK Forum

When elderly parents want to be our children....

Share information, support and advice on all aspects of caring.
A good few posts back I mentioned a book that focusses on the relationships in families, which argues that basically each person in a family has one of three roles: Parent, Child, Adult. This is irrespective of what they actually are!

Healthy emotional and psychological relationships are when someone who is an actual parent, adopts the role of Parent, and their actual child,that of the role of Child. etc etc. And when the child becomes an adult, then the only healthy relationship between a child and its parent is, indeed, an Adult-to-Adult one (which is the only healthy relationship between adults, as well, obviously!)

This doesn't always happen. For example, a married couple might be actual adults, but one of them adopts the role of Parent (usually a controlling man, but not always!)(because some men love playing the 'little boy' who is indulged and pampered!) and the other one that of Child (usually the 'little woman' wifey, etc).

This is BAD. It can be permissisbble if these role aberrations are temporary (a husband and wife take it inturns to be, say, 'hopeless' about each other's skill sets - eg, man looks helpless in the kitchen, woman can't cope with flat tyre, etc etc), but only if it's by mutual consent (and equal in incidence!). Otherwise it is nearly always a pathological controlling situation, whereby one of the two seeks to control the other partner to their own benefit.

This is, again, usually when someone adopts a Parent role - the typical controlling, domineering husband who keeps their wife infantile and dependent and scared etc etc (domestic abuse situation!) or infantile, dependent and pampered like a pet!

But, as some of us here know, it can be when someone adopts the Child role that they achieve their controlling status. When an elderly parent decides that they want to adopt the Child role towards their own child, and force their child to adopt the Parent role, it is a controlling techqnique by the elderly parent to get their child to look after them.

This is BAD - ie, malign and pathological and emotionally and psycholgoically unhealthy for both parties (even though the Child role party is clearly benefitting, it is only because they are exploiting their child by forcing them into the Parent role!)

Anyway, all of this is in a book called The Games People Play by Eric Berne, which a friend leant me and it all makes huge sense to me! (And not just because my elderly MIL wants me to become her mum and look after her for the rest of her life!)

Good luck with it if it makes sense to any of you in similar situations!
Hi Jenny Lucas

I'm dead curious now. I read a book many years ago called The Games People Play. I can't remember who wrote it, but it was all about something called Transactional Analysis. Might it be the same book?
I read my book in about 1990. The only thing I can remember from it is to drop 'the ball'.
That is, if someone insists on playing metaphorical 'games' of 'ball' with you, you can stop that in it's tracks by simply not picking up the metaphorical ball.
I can't for the life of me remember how one was supposed to go about doing this, but I must have done so anyway.
For, just several weeks later, I managed to walk away from a highly controlling boyfriend without so much as a second glance.
Sometimes these DIY psycho-babble books really can help, IF the right one, at the right time, comes along. Mine did, even if it's not the same one as yours.
Just remembered, mine had loads of pie charts in it... does yours?
Just remembered something else, dead practical. The book advised replying to criticisms, goads, rhetorical questions, etc, with a question of your own rather than arguing or defending yourself. Can't remember anything else.
transactional Analysis had its short period of a method of popularising and simplifying relationships and human nature itself. probably made a few bob for a few followers in its heyDay! easy to read stuff but even so .....often misinterpreted Image

To be fair to you jenny (and I am aware you have had your own problems) I see that you do try to justify your views, views which you probably now realise I happen to find extreme. I believe you will appreciate me speaking honestly, ok? Fingers crossed!

I think the fundamental issue is that poor jenny herself is struggling with the issue of how much she is willing to provide support for her mother in law. Am I correct jenny?

SO ... I think its vital jenny that you come to terms with your own dilemma(sp?) but all I can offer In the way of advice is .....This caring business... It can only be successful for both sides if you really "care" enough to willingly put someone else's needs ahead of your own. Make no mistake about that.

And there is no shame in walking away from it. As you have pointed out to others on many occasions.

I truly hope you find some peace with your own issues Jenny.

DR
Jenny, no bad feelings from me either hopefully. Always difficult, written word and all that.
Thanks Sussex... I should have expressed myself better and made it clear to jenny! but your prompt appreciated! Image
I think one takes away from books, or any other sources of information, what one wants from them, and if they strike one or ring a bell, then they do, if they don't they don't. Some people like some interpretations of the way people interact, and the way those interactions are codified and interpreted (eg, dividing relationships into roleplays between Parents/Adults/Children etc) and some don't. Each to his own.

I would be interested to hear any counter-argument to the argument I put forward - ie, that as our parents age, and become practically and emotionally dependent on us (those that do, that is), their relationship with us changes from Parent (them) to Child (us) (or even Adult-to-Adult), to one of Child (them) to Parent (us), so that we have to 'look after' them, whilst simultaneously retaining their original Parent (them) to Child (us) relationship, so that they get to 'dictate' to us. They want to be 'helpless' (like a Child) when it suits them (so we look after them) but also 'powerful' (like a Parent) when they want to dictate both that we look after them, and the way we look after them.

Do you think this doesn't happen? (I don't mean in all relationships between elderly parents and their child-carers, but in those relationships where parents are both dependent and demanding) (as evidenced by quite a few posters here according to their personal testimony!).


DR: "It can only be successful for both sides if you really "care" enough to willingly put someone else's needs ahead of your own".

Um, I don't consider 'success' defined as one side giving and the other side taking, without reciprocity.

SR: 'Bad' as in it's bad for one person to try and control another person, by whatever means or mechanisms. It's equally 'bad' for one person to want to be controlled, or to enjoy being controlled.

'Fairness' has always been my obsession, all my life - which is why reciprocity is so important to me. It's probably the opposite of sacrifice and generosity. But to me, it's also about 'deservingness' -

What I read here, time after time, is tale after tale of people who are giving up their LIVES for the sake of elderly people who have already HAD their lives....that just doesn't seem fair to me. It just doesn't seem fair....
Surely everyone here expresses their own opinions? And some of those differ from each other! Everyone here can choose which opinion to have, and which to agree with, and which not to agree with! Is that problematical at all??

As for life not being fair- well, it isn't if we don't try and make it fair! Maybe we can't always succeed, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try and make it fair!

(This is my opinion, no one else has to have it!)

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But, as some of us here know, it can be when someone adopts the Child role that they achieve their controlling status. When an elderly parent decides that they want to adopt the Child role towards their own child, and force their child to adopt the Parent role, it is a controlling techqnique by the elderly parent to get their child to look after them.

This is BAD - ie, malign and pathological and emotionally and psycholgoically unhealthy for both parties (even though the Child role party is clearly benefitting, it is only because they are exploiting their child by forcing them into the Parent role!)
Jenny, I'm not so sure that I agree with you on this, that it is a controlling technique and that it is bad.

Nothing in life is clear cut, easily defined in terms of black and white. When I look at my early life and compare it to your Parent, Child, Adult roles, I am forced to conclude that I took on the Adult role almost from birth, while my parents slipped naturally into the role of Child. That's just the way it was. I could no more have changed my role to become the Child than my parents could have taken on the role of Parent. I know that I wouldn't have wanted to change. It's part of me. That's who I am - the responsible Adult who steps in and fixes everything.

As for my parents, I understand to a certain degree why they were in the Child role. Humans are such complex animals. I couldn't "fix" them and make everyone happy, so I did the next best thing and tried to look after them. Maybe my life would have been better if I hadn't had to do that, but it's also possible that it might have been much worse. Life is tricky like that.

And what of a parent who takes on the Child role in their later years? My guess would be that it stems from feelings of fear. If someone is frightened, aren't we really stretching things a bit much to expect them to act in a completely normal and rational way?

Jenny, I hate small yappy dogs, yet I have a chihuahua. I adopted him about eight years ago because he had been so badly mistreated that he screamed if anyone tried to touch him. He's pretty much normal now and thinks he's a wolf, but if there's thunder he immediately jumps on my lap. Is he being controlling by doing this? No, he's just terrified.

Ok, so I'm now Parent to my 92 year old mother, and to a tiny wolf when it thunders, but why the heck not? Sometimes it drives me nuts and at other times it's really fun.

And life isn't fair, and was never meant to be. Trust me. If life was fair I'd have a 1940 Rolls parked in my driveway, but all I have there is leaves.
'Bad' as in it's bad for one person to try and control another person, by whatever means or mechanisms. It's equally 'bad' for one person to want to be controlled, or to enjoy being controlled.
I would generally agree (with some reservations) when you are talking about normal family dynamics - which is what I suspect he was talking about - but once you introduce the aspect of disability the whole thing flies out of the window and the concept of it as "bad" becomes meaningless.
If someone needs caring for, then by that very concept they are unable to adhere to what Berne considers normal family dynamics.
When we married my husband was the partner who sorted out finance, DIY, organised tradesmen etc and I did housework, childcare and cooking. It suited us well and both parties were happy. After hubbys accident he is now disabled and can no longer do any of these things, although he is still able to do some housework.
So....... we have gone through complete role reversal. But that is not because he has forced me to take other stuff on, but because he is unable to do it and so I have to - or walk away.
Elderly people become unable to do things for themselves and become reliant on others (usually one person Image ), not usually because they have maliciously chosen this, but because they cant do things themselves and survival patterns kick in.
When that happens the carer needs to accept the role reversal and deal with the problems, or else find some other way for that person to be cared for.
The dynamics of caring are truly unique. There is no one way to do it. Some people cope with 24/7 caring duties. Some have their carees living with them while they also work. Some care for people who live nearby, or even at a distance managing care workers and some carees need looking after in a care home. Many carers go through several of these options.
There is no "one size fits all" option.
Quite, Crocus, everyone's caring situation is different, as are our reactions to it. No-one said that caring is easy; if it was, there would be no need for this Forum.

Yes, I would agree that many old people, my mum included, revert to a child-like state and, although they do not mean it, they become incredibly self-obsessed and selfish. We, the carees, give up a lot (all?) of our lives to look after them. But is this bad? It is not fair and I too resent much of it; I personally would love to travel and see the world. However, what is more important than looking after someone you love? Is that not the most important job in the world? I know it is hard, frustrating, poorly paid. But for many of us, while we can cope, and there may be a time when we cannot, we just get on with it.

You are entitled to your views, Jenny, but please don't impose them on others. Many people coming to this Forum do not want to be told that their relationship is BAD - they just want a bit of support from others who know how tough this caring business is.
I definitely think I need to apologise for the way I posted the original post on this thread. I should have made it crystal clear that I was 'quoting' so to speak from a particular author, presenting their interpretations (whether valid or not!) on family dynamics. Re-reading my original post it can, indeed, sound like I'm saying this as a 'dictat' and not as a 'presentation of a particular interpretation' and for that I do apologise!

Given that I'm 'quoting' from a particular interpretation (the Parent/Adult/Child interpreation of family dynamics/relationship dynamics), all the 'Good'/'Bad' evaluations are simply subjective to that interpretation. ie, if you don't think that elder parents become our children or if they do, that that isn't 'bad', then those labels simply don't apply!

I think I did say at the end that some people might find this particular interpretation helpful to their own situation, and some not. Me, I did and do, so it's helped me - but that might well not be the case for others at all!

All the best to you all, in the different ways you are dealing with your situations.