Intersection of Life and Faith

7 Ways Adult Children Can Love Their Aging Parents

  • Deborah Haddix Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2020 27 Aug
7 Ways Adult Children Can Love Their Aging Parents

The effects of aging are wide and varied. One person’s aging parents may still be working a part-time job. Another’s no longer able to walk or fighting Alzheimer’s. 

Slowness, stiffness, loss of abilities – every aging adult deals with them in some way. It is part of the human condition, a result of the Fall, and it is hard.

In this season of life, more than ever, our parents need to experience expressions of our love for them.  

Consider the following 7 ways adult children can love their aging parents:

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  • 1. Have Patience with Them

    1. Have Patience with Them

    Patience is not something that comes naturally to most of us. Always in a hurry, we allow anything that slows us down to irritate us, and let’s not even talk about the effect interruptions have on us.

    When it comes to our aging parents, it can be extremely difficult to summon our patience. Think about it. How do you typically react when dad seems to move slower than a tortoise or wants to stop and chat with every passerby he meets? What about those times when mom asks for the hundredth time how to program the DVR or cannot for the life of her figure out how to operate her cell phone?

    And those are just the small irritations. As our parents age, we are bound to face some major life interruptions as well – forgetfulness, immobility, and disease. 

    When those irritations and interruptions come, and they will, we would do well to consider our parents are facing them as well. Failing health and declining abilities can be an impetus for great fear and anxiety

    One way to show love to our aging parents is to remember God’s great patience toward us, as well as the patience our parents exhibited while raising us. 

    Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13

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  • 2. Keep Your Promises

    2. Keep Your Promises

    Another way we can care for our aging parents is to keep our promises. In other words, do what we say.  

    Have there ever been times when you told your parents you would stop by on the way home from work, only to find that when the time rolled around you were so tired all you wanted to do was drive straight home?

    Or instances where you failed to follow through on your commitment to accompany them to an appointment because “something came up?”

    We are to be people of truth. As followers of Christ, we are not supposed to deceive one another or prove to be unreliable.

    When we make a commitment to our parents, we are communicating a promise – pledge, vow – to be there. And be there, we should. 

    Unless there is a good reason, a reason that demonstrates more love or more honor than that of keeping our original promise, we should do our best to keep it. Being tired after work does not qualify as more loving or honorable – unless we are tired to the point of being dangerous in our abilities. 

    On those occasions when we are tempted to back out on a commitment made to our parents, it would be a good practice to stop and check our motives. Is selfishness our driving force or is the reason indeed a more loving and honorable choice? If our motives are not selfish in nature, it would be wise to explain the situation to our parents and ask for release from the commitment to maintain our reliability. 

    Following through on our promises declares to our aging parents that they are a priority. The demonstration of trustworthiness in keeping our commitments to them shows honor. Our word to them should mean something.

    I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Psalm 89:34

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  • man pushing senior in wheelchair outdoors smiling

    3. Spend Time with Them

    The landscape of your aging parents’ world is changing. Family members who used to spend lots of time with them are now busy with families and jobs of their own. Treasured friendships are now just memories to which your parents cling, and they themselves have limitations that slow them down or shut them in.

    Make it a priority to spend time with them – on their agenda, not yours. If you live in the same town or in near proximity, make frequent, regular visits and consider how you might involve your parents in your family’s daily activities.

    Living many miles away from our parents does not give us a free pass on this one. It simply means we may have to work a little harder to make it happen. While it might not be possible for us to make frequent visits, we can make them regularly. 

    Whether an evening on the porch, a lunch date, or an afternoon by a bedside, we show our love by giving time to spend with our parents in person.

    Between the in-person visits, we can still interact with our parents by other means. Texts, email messages, phone calls, and notes in the mail can all be ways of cultivating interactions that will mean the world to our aging parents.

    I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 2 John 1:12

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  • 4. Communicate

    4. Communicate

    Take the time to talk, really talk with your aging parents. You are sure to be as enlightened as they are encouraged – reminisce, laugh together, ask their advice.

    Unless old age has stolen their ability to communicate, your parents have much to offer. Avail yourself while you still can. Rather than sitting mutely when you visit them, stir up some conversation.

    Ask about your parents’ childhood. What are their fondest memories? Who were their friends? Give them space to reminisce and share their history with you. Hear stories of your upbringing from their point of view. Often their retelling will be much different from yours. 

    While you are at it, be sure to share some of your memories with your parents. It will bring them much joy to hear the things you remember. 

    Regardless of who is doing the memory sharing, some of the tales are sure to lead to some laughter. Go ahead. Let the laughter roll. It does the heart good – both theirs and yours!

    Along with the reminiscence and laughter, include some advice seeking in your communications. The Bible consistently associates folly with youth and wisdom with age. As well, it tells us that those who have lived longer lives have generally accumulated greater wisdom. We may not always follow their advice, but it is smart to ask for it. By doing so we show honor and love.

    And do not forget to say, “I love you.” The power of those three little words is not to be underestimated. Hearing those words from you brings comfort, peace, and joy to their hearts.

    Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? Job 12:12

    May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12

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  • senior dad walking in park with adult daughter

    5. Listen

    Great communication is an art. It develops as we learn to weave meaningful talk with skillful listening. Love your aging parents by learning to listen well.

    I am sure none of these ideas is new to you. Nonetheless, in our culture of busyness and distraction, I think they bear repeating.

    Be present. The whole purpose of engaging in these various avenues of communication with our parents is to stay connected and deepen our relationship with them. This is not going to happen if our parents feel like we are not listening.   Create a safe and comfortable atmosphere by anchoring your conversation to something else – go fishing, work a jigsaw puzzle, cook dinner, take a walk.

    Give your parents your full attention. While this idea sounds very much like the first, it is worth singling out. Giving our parents our full attention means removing all distractions – turn off the television, close the book, and put the phone away. Show them their importance to you by keeping your eyes on them while they speak. 

    Use appropriate body language. Lean in. Smile. Nod. Let your parents know you are listening through body language that communicates just that. They are certainly not going to be very interested in future conversations with us if our body language shouts, “I’m not listening!”

    Focus on understanding. Better understanding our parents is one of the reasons we converse with them. So, what can we do to help us better understand? First, quiet your mind while your parent is talking. Do not think about how you are going to respond. Don’t interrupt their train of thought. Further, learn to listen closely to the words that are spoken as well as what lies underneath them. Then at an appropriate time during the conversation or when speaking has ended, rephrase what you believe you heard.

    My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

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  • man and woman standing in prayer eyes closed

    6. Pray

    Of course, in an article of this nature one expects to find prayer listed. However, acknowledging it in a list and doing it are two profoundly different things.

    Prayer is work! Evangelist, Oswald Chambers once said, “Prayer does not fit us for greater works; prayer is the greater work.” And in his letters, the apostle Paul often exhorted the readers to join him in the labor of prayer.

    Work, yes, but worthy work especially when done on behalf of your aging parents. Your prayers help you be more involved in their lives and close any gaps that may exist. The gift of prayer invites you to take all your concerns about your parents to God and permits you to release to Him the things you cannot control. 

    Beyond those wonderful blessings, prayer has the power to stop Satan’s schemes toward your parents. It strengthens your relationship with your parents and is the single greatest thing you can do to express your love for them.

    Make your prayers even sweeter by letting your parents know you are praying for them and asking for their requests. It will be great encouragement. Share your requests with your parents. This simple act communicates your continued need for them. Also, they will feel blessed by being entrusted with the privilege of praying specifically for your needs.

    Prayer is a crucial element when it comes to loving your aging parents. We absolutely need to roll up our sleeves and get the work done no matter what it takes.

    I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1

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  • 7. Show Appreciation

    7. Show Appreciation

    It is so easy to dwell on mistakes.  In fact, we are all pretty good at finding fault.  Waging the fight against our natural tendencies, we must strive to look past any discomfort or frustration we may feel toward our aging parents. Instead of allowing complaint to be our response, we can love them by looking for something to be thankful for, by building them up rather than tearing them down.

    One way we can show our appreciation is to esteem them. In other words, give them credit when and where we can. Esteeming is a simple act that will bring great joy and honor to our parents, and it can be done both privately and publicly.

    In private, say things like, “You know, Mom, I really appreciate that you taught me about putting other people first,” or “Thank you, Dad, for teaching me how to change a flat tire.”

    When in public, speak well of them. We can accomplish this by addressing our words directly toward our parents or expressing them to others. 

    As a special act of love, we can also take the time to write out the things for which we are thankful. We can do so in a formal tribute written for a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday or in a simple letter. Nothing, absolutely nothing, shows appreciation, honor, or love to our parents more than our taking the time to sit down and write out a letter – with a pen, on paper!

    Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

    Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:7

    No, our parents are not perfect. Yes, they made a few mistakes along the way. They may have even made a lot of huge mistakes.

    One of the best ways we can love our aging parents is to choose to forgive. With determination and resolve, we can choose not to keep bringing their mistakes back up, retaliate, or punish. Instead, we can choose to shower them with the grace of God that He so freely gives to each of us. How we treat our parents is a sign of our faith in Christ.

    Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

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    Deborah Haddix is the author of Soul Nourishment: Satisfying Our Deep Longing for God. She also serves as Prayer Resources, Education, and Training Coordinator for Christian Grandparenting Network. Deborah writes, blogs, speaks, and coaches on topics related to biblical grandparenting, other life relationships, and soul care. Read the blog and find resources at her website.