Aging parents grow stubborn, and researchers are uncovering the reasons why. Studies show not only do adult children complain that their parents are stubborn — the parents themselves admit it.
Three-quarters of adult children and two-thirds of older parents reported that the parents acted stubbornly sometimes, while two out of five children and one in five parents said the stubborn behavior occurred often, according to one study.
Typically, “as children become more involved, they may make suggestions for things that older adults might do to maintain their safety and well-being, only to find out that older adults see things differently,” according to the study of 189 aging parents with an adult child.
Researchers say a key reason is differing goals of children and parents. An aging parent might want to exercise independence by walking to the store for groceries, but the child may see such a venture as risking a fall.
“Adult children and parents may not always agree on what is best for the parent or how the parent should act,” said a related study that asked 192 middle-aged adults to keep diaries of their parents’ behavior.
One-third reported stubborn behavior at least once, and about one in five reported risky behavior at least once in a seven-day period.
Dr. Allison Heid of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at Rowan University and one of the studies’ authors, drew inspiration from her grandmother, who lived in upstate New York and insisted upon shoveling the snow from her sidewalk in her 80s.
“She wanted to maintain her independence and sense of control,” said Heid. “From my perspective, I wanted her to be safe and not have her arthritis act up.
“Sometimes she would stop shoveling to pacify us, and other times do it anyway.”
The studies sought to distinguish the difference between stubbornness as a personality trait and as behavior that can be modified.
The research warned that such situations can harm the emotional well-being of the adult children and their relationships with their parents.
“As parents age, every day, some adult children encounter behaviors that are difficult to manage,” the second study said.
Children with good relationships with their parents reported less stubbornness and vice versa. Children were more likely to report parental stubbornness if the parents were disabled, and children were likely to report fathers as more stubborn than mothers.
“Such tensions in families may have a corrosive effect on how adult children and their parents interact with one another over the long term.”
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