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Tips for Older Parents: How to Get the Most Out of an Ongoing Experience
Many people have the mindset that by the time they are in their 50s the kids will be off on their own and they will be through with the parenting experience and ready to live for themselves and their own interests. There are many reasons why this doesn't always happen. Perhaps you married late in life and your youngest is still at home. Perhaps you re-married a single mother or father with kids. Perhaps you fell in love with someone much younger than you are and he or she wanted a family. But the fact is that when you are in your 50s or 60s your metabolism begins to slow down, and you don't have the get-up-and-go you once had. How do you cope with active, energetic youngsters?
Parenting as a Lifestyle
The first thing you need to do is set your mind properly for the task. In reality, parenting is not something that has a beginning and an end. Once your son or daughter is born it never ends. Just accept the fact that you will be a parent until the day you die and work it into your lifestyle. The sooner you realize that parenting is not a temporary job but a permanent vocation the better off you will be, and the more efficiently and successfully you will be able to cope with its demands.
When you realize that parenting is forever you can go on to the next step: pace yourself. Don't be in a rush. It's an ongoing thing. Give yourself a break. You will be busy, of course, and you won't always be able to do what you want when you want, but be sure that you get enough rest when you need it, and at least occasional recreation as well.
This is very important: stay in shape. Exercise and eat properly. Remember, you are living not just for yourself but for others too. You owe it to yourself and to them to keep fit. On the other hand, don't try to keep up with your kids. As they grow older they will surpass you in physical ability. Let them. You don't have to be the strongest and the fastest. It's a proud moment as a parent, in fact, when your son or daughter exceeds you in athletic prowess. It's great if you can enter into the game and have fun, whether, football, basketball, tennis, running, or whatever, but when you've had enough, say so and bow out. Part of keeping fit is knowing when to quit.
Listen to Your Children
Generally the older you are the more idiosyncratic you become. You develop habits and preferences that are not easily shaken. But it's important to listen to your kids when they talk to you about current trends in clothing, music, electronic devices and so on. They may have some useful tips for you. They may be able to dress you up so you look ten years younger. They may be able to turn you on to some music you really enjoy. If you become rock-hard in your habits and refuse to even consider change you'll become an old decaying fuddy-duddy in their eyes. You don't have to take all their suggestions, but at least listen and be open to them.
Let Them Grow
As far as personal relationships are concerned, recognize that your kids are adults, or at least in the process of becoming adults, and treat them as unique individuals. Don't try to turn them into younger versions of you. Some may have traits or characteristics similar to yours, but they are not you and never will be. Let them grow as themselves, and help them in the process as if you were a gardener protecting and nourishing a plant growing into its own shape and size and ambience. If you recognize them as the wonderful special people that they are, the parent/child relationship will evolve into true friendship as well, and will continue to be close no matter what circumstances life brings your way.
Don't be thin-skinned about being an older parent. People might make disparaging remarks about it, but so what if they do? It's none of their business. They are speaking out of their own ignorance, revealing their foolishness. Under most circumstances it's best to keep the higher ground and ignore them rather than confront them. They aren't worth the trouble.
Have a Hobby
In all of this, don't forget yourself. Yes, the kids come first, and yes, you will often have to forsake your own schedule and interests to take care of them, but you are unique and special too. If you have a hobby, keep it up, at least occasionally. If you have a dream, pursue it. If you have friends, take time to visit them. It's good for your kids to see that you are active and enjoy life. They'll take your cue and do it too.
Sometimes the responsibilities and hard work of parenting can weigh you down. Sometimes it's easy to look at all the little tasks, all the details that have to be attended to, and become overwhelmed. Sometimes you wish you could just have more time to yourself. But when you are tempted to despair, consider the rewards. You have a family. You are helping little human beings grow into fruition. Most people who live alone long for companionship, long to be part of a family unit. Sometimes when I have to be off on my own for a number of days I might first be hit by the exhilaration of independence, but it's not long before I miss my loved ones and realize what a gift and privilege it is to be a parent.