There is a great article today in the Wall Street Journal about a problem I see all the time as an estate planning and probate lawyer. It discusses the “fine line between being an appropriately concerned adult child and an overly worried, helicopter one. . . .” The article is behind a paywall, so here are a couple of quotes for those of you without a subscription:
A big question adult children need to ask is whether they are intervening for their parents’ well-being or to alleviate their own worries, says William Doherty, a family therapist and professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. “If your 80-year-father is still driving, you worry,” even if he is capable of driving, he says. “If he’s not driving, you don’t worry, but your father has had a big loss.”
Even small, well-intentioned acts can send the wrong message to parents, says Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist and author. If a parent fumbles with the key when trying to unlock a door, kids should be patient and wait, rather than grabbing the key and taking over. While you may be trying to be helpful, the message, deliberate or not, is that you are competent, and the parent isn’t, she says.
How to avoid becoming a helicopter child:
Unless your father or mother has dementia, don’t make decisions for him or her. Discuss matters and remember he or she has a right to take informed risks.
If you and your parents don’t agree on their level of competence, consult a professional together.
Don’t go through your parents’ mail or screen their calls unless asked.
Pick your battles. If a parent is getting lost or has stopped bathing, talk about what help he or she might need to remain independent. If his or her clothes don’t match, get over it.
If a parent has cataracts in both eyes and continues to drive at night, ask the primary-care physician to intervene.
If your parents forget to turn off the stove, don’t jump to the conclusion they can’t stay in their home. Look into devices that turn stoves off automatically.
Use classic ‘I’ language, such as: ‘I am concerned about you living in a two-story house after your heart attack.’ Avoid: ‘You can’t live here anymore.’
Source: “Who’s in Charge Here? Aging Parents Resist Interfering ‘Helicopter’ Children” by Clare Ansberry, The Wall Street Journal (April 23, 2018).