My friend, Geetha constantly complains about how her mum and mother-in-law interfere with everything she does. “They have an opinion for everything I do”, she says with a sigh. “They are ready to criticize the way I bring up my children, or run my house or even sometimes the way I speak to my husband. I feel I am constantly being judged.” The frustration over not being allowed to figure things on our own has been expressed so many times across generations. So why is it that as people get older they forget that they were once young too – and perhaps went through this same ordeal?
Sometimes people want to ‘manage’ the lives of younger loved ones, to assert their authority, or maybe because they care. They’ve been through the grind and have seen the pitfalls, and want to protect them against likely mishaps. At other times, however, they interfere merely because they want to have their opinion heard. Geetha says more often than not, she ignores the constant comments and continues to do her own thing. But, ever so often, there are sharp and sarcastic remarks that fly pass her that really upset her. “We listened to our elders when we were young, but nowadays children think they know better”, is a very common jibe thrown her way.
It wasn’t very long ago when many aged parents lived together with their grown children and grandchildren. Elders’ seniority allowed them to prevail over most family matters whether they were right or wrong. However, over the years, things have changed rapidly. Today there is a growing need to assert oneself and make one’s own decisions. Today’s young adults have a lot more information at their disposal that they tend to rely on. As a result, young adults today are far less dependent upon their elders for guidance. They prefer to make their mistakes and learn from them. They prefer to seek out the latest trends rather than follow ‘outdated’ information. This is something that Geetha’s elders and so many others do not understand. They can’t accept that Geetha would trust a computer over the first hand experience that they can offer her.
To better understand this conflict, we interviewed several senior citizens and researched online resources. What we found was what the younger generation tended to brush off as stubbornness and interference was often an attempt to be heard and acknowledged. Geetha for example admits that she blocks out her elders out of exasperation and the fear that if she listens to them it might lead to never ending interference.
Perhaps if Geetha did accept at least some of the input provided by her elders, it might actually make them ease up a bit. This would make them feel more relevant and wanted – which is a greatly felt need for the elderly the world over. However, it is also recommended that we establish clear boundaries. Older parents, in-laws and other seniors, who are advising their adult children, should be made to understand that the final decision on matters will be in the hands of the younger generation. At the same time, their advice would be respected and even welcomed. The older generation has a treasure trove of information that could be of immense use to their younger counterparts. For instance, often times, home remedies work better for minor ailments than the pharmaceuticals a doctor would usually prescribe. For example, Geetha says her mum-in-law uses a bee’s honey and lime mixture for a cough. She tried it a couple of times and it does soothe an irritated throat.
Looking at it from the seniors point of view, they should understand that though they do have a lot to offer, they need to share advice without making it look like they are finding fault. For instance they could rephrase their inputs as ‘during our time we did it like this – you could try this out if you like.’ The important thing for elders to remember is that their children are not children anymore. Sometimes, they need to back off and let them make their own decisions – and mistakes. At the same time, they need to keep themselves open for discussion so that when their children really want their advice they can easily turn to them. This way their children will value advice better and accept it without resentment.