Aging Well: What gifts can older adults give their adult children?


The summer that my parents celebrated their eighty-fifth birthdays, my siblings and I hosted a tropical bash in the dining room of their retirement community. Since my mother was born in late May and my father in August of the same year, we split the difference and had a joint, mid-summer celebration.

August2014It was a festive, tropical affair with beach umbrellas, sand buckets and fresh flowers from Hawaii. We invited family and longtime friends along with new friends from their retirement community. As the grandkids greeted guests with party leis, my parents’ eyes danced with joy. It was a moment I wish I could have frozen in time because the next few years would bring a rapid acceleration into physical decline.

Amid all the conversation and reminiscing that afternoon, one thing remains crystal clear in my mind. An adult child who accompanied her mother to the party, said, “You don’t know how lucky you are! Your parents have given you such a wonderful gift! I know that if my mother had an attitude like theirs, this journey would certainly be easier for all of us!”

I acknowledged the woman’s kind words but didn’t fully grasp their significance until I came face-to-face with her mother’s critical spirit. My parents had been selfless and generous, always planning ahead and making tough decisions with a spirit of grace, but I didn’t realize the full impact of their gift until years later after they were gone. As I traveled the country speaking at conferences and churches, I had the opportunity to interact with many adult children who were struggling with issues about their aging parents. I began to take notes on what they wished their parents would do differently.

Recently I posted a query on Facebook and Twitter, explaining that I was looking for “gifts” that older adults could give their adult children. Not gifts that cost money or that you could put in a box but things an aging parent could do to bring peace of mind to adult children who are journeying through aging alongside them.

One Facebook friend started the on-line conversation, talking about something aging parents should NOT give their children—a houseful of stuff! She made the point that an aging parent should be proactive in getting their house in order, including downsizing, while they still can. She also encouraged aging parents to face the realization that, with the exception of sentimental items, most adult children don’t need or want all of their parents’ household belongings. “It’s a great gift when parents take the initiative to decide what to sell, what to give away and what to throw away so the kids aren’t forced to do it for them!” added another man via email.

Some who responded to the query mentioned the peace of mind they would feel if their aging parents would give up driving before they had to ask for the keys to the car. Others said that it would be a gift if their aging loved ones would initiate those sensitive conversations about legal and financial issues, including advanced directives and powers of attorney, healthcare and plans for long-term care. They also expressed a desire to know their parents’ preferences concerning memorial services and interment. As one daughter wrote, “It’s a hard topic but it would be comforting to know that we are all on the same page.”

An adult son mentioned the gift of an ethical will in which aging parents leave specific non-tangible items to those they love, including things like the love of a particular sports team or the joy of camping, fishing, or sewing. Similarly, others mentioned a legacy letter which documents a person’s values and life experiences as a priceless gift for future generations.

The gift most requested by adult children was for their aging parents to try to maintain a positive outlook as they age. “Show the rest of us how to grow old gracefully, even when faced with physical decline. Participate in life. Don’t quit living,” wrote one adult daughter. “Make up your mind that you will focus on the blessings and not the loss. Live your faith until your last breath.”

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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