Respecting aging parents: Baby (Boomer) Talk

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Respecting aging parents: Baby (Boomer) Talk

Adriann Griffith
This post was updated on .
Thoughts from the ol' blog:

Now that those in the first wave of Baby Boomers are entering our sixties, the music of the Sixties doesn’t seem to fit us as well as it once did.  Suddenly the tunes we’ve claimed as the soundtrack for our lives don’t quite cover our current situation.  In “My Generation,” arguably the anthem of sixties’ youth, the Who declare “I hope I die before I get old….”  I imagine Roger Daltry changed his mind on that one a few years back.

I suppose the Byrds and the Beatles (do I get points for zoological alliteration?) came closest to offering enduring musical application.  The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” reminded us that there’s “a time for every purpose under heaven”; but though the song mentions seasons, it doesn’t specifically mention aging.  Paul McCartney’s whimsical “When I’m Sixty-Four” actually used the first person to speak of an “advanced” age.  But those two songs were, in the first instance, actually theological and in the second, theoretical, so I’m not sure they count as the sort of intensely autobiographical statement that we Boomers have—up to this point--demanded our music to be.

Usually the music Boomers loved best was immensely egocentric.  It was ours because (at least figuratively) it was about us!  Now, instead, we have ad agencies wreaking havoc with familiar songs.  It’s more than a little daunting when tunes we sang along with as teens are now being used to advertise denture cream and Viagra.  Just what does that say about my demographic?  Well, okay, I guess the music is still about us—just not in the light we prefer to think of ourselves.

But if ad men can almost sacrilegiously (I am a southern girl and this was an Elvis song) rewrite the lyrics of “Viva Las Vegas” for their own purposes, maybe Baby Boomers can rewrite other songs.  Well, one of the aspects of survival is adaptation, right?   A possibility that comes immediately to mind is changing “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” to “Papa Has a Kidney Stone,” but I don’t think either Motown or Papa would forgive me that one. Besides, it was a gallstone that nearly felled my hubby.   What about changing “My Boyfriend’s Back” to “My Aching Back”?  “Incense and Peppermints” to “Rolaids and Tagamet?”  Much more appropriate songs for me, personally.

I’ll admit that changing the songs that I embraced as a teenager so that they will fit my middle-aged reality may have no lasting impact.   In all honesty, my choice of lyrics to sing in the shower is far less likely to impact the world around me than most any other choice I might make.  However one sort of word choice, one kind of adaptation, that will surely affect my world is the way I change the way I communicate with my aging parents.  In relating to them, the words I choose—and how I say those words—are enormously important.

In some ways, an attitude of respect for our parents is more important now than ever.  As very young children, there is seldom a problem; no one is surprised if little ones perceive their mothers and fathers as omniscient.  Respect is understood.  By the teen years, respect--and parents--are under-appreciated.   Of course parents desire, however unfulfilled that desire may be, for their children to continue to show them respect as those little ones reach their teens--and far beyond.

Much has been written about the progression of children’s parental perception.   Perhaps the most famous quote on the matter was spouted by Mark Twain in Atlantic Monthly back in 1874, “ When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be  twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  Usually there is a real renaissance of respect for our parents as we experience the joys of parenthood for ourselves and we begin to appreciate what they endured with us.  But too often the frustrations of dealing with elderly parents battling the complexities of their changing lives can again undermine our expression of respect.

As adults, especially as middle-aged or senior adults ourselves, communicating our respect to our mothers and fathers is of immense importance because of the season of uncertainty in which so many of our parents find themselves. Words express our respect or lack of it.   Words matter because, even when we don’t intend it, they can reveal our real thoughts.  As Jesus said, “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  Are we having to address finances, health issues, retirement?  Our approach and the way we communicate our concerns will frequently decide the manner in which our concerns are received.  Speaking in positive terms matters.  Speaking with consideration matters, because kindness matters.

As our parents age, roles can become reversed.  We may become the caregivers, decision-makers, protectors.  But we must still honor our parents.   Perhaps a final decision in a matter  must be ours.  But why not ask parents’ opinions, even their advice?  Pose a simple question.  Ask for feedback. Even someone struggling with Alzheimer’s or another major challenge can appreciate being consulted.  A person feeling that he still has a say about what goes on in his life, or that someone else actually cares about what he has to say, is encouraged.  A person feeling that he can benefit someone else by what he says is empowered.

When a songwriter pens a song, he chooses his words carefully.  The rhyme and reason of his lyrics can decide whether anyone listens to what he has to say—the words he chooses make a difference.   When we speak to our aging parents, the words we choose make a difference.  We may even be astonished by the wise and wonderful words they choose in return.
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Re: Respecting aging parents: Baby (Boomer) Talk

Hi there,
I love your write-up. "When we speak to our aging parents, the words we choose make a difference.  We may even be astonished by the wise and wonderful words they choose in return. " they make sense :)
 You're right, we should honor and love our parents no matter what--despite having a irritating disease such of Alzheimer's.

I've been also doing a lot of study on long term care for baby boomers. I hope that most people will understand the importance of taking care of their health and for younger ones to love their parents