Children of difficult older parents (CODOPs) live with a pain in their hearts. If their parent has only recently become difficult, typically from dementia, the pain mainly consists of grief and compassionate sorrow for their parent’s decline. If, however, the parent has always been difficult, the CODOP’s pain actually goes even deeper. Why? Here are two important reasons.
First, an infant arrives in the world fully equipped and ready to perceive love from its caregivers, to receive that love, and to respond lovingly to it. Healthy parents, likewise, greet the baby’s birth with joy, and their behavior toward the child is attentive, caring, available, consistent, kind, and helpful. In this environment, the child thrives. Parents need not be perfect parents; a child with “good enough” parenting will do fine.
Conversely, an infant also arrives in the world fully equipped and ready to perceive the lack love from its caregivers, to acknowledge that lack of love, and to respond with whatever defensive measures are needed to ensure the baby’s survival every day. If the parents are not attentive, caring, available, consistent, kind, and helpful, the child will, by trial and error, devise some adaptations to maintain a tolerable level of emotional comfort in their less than ideal world. This is heroic but tragic, because the adaptations are inevitably not ideal for living among the healthier people the child will meet later in life. The adaptations persist throughout the child’s life as scarred-over wounds that can distort their perception of the world and their reactions to the world, resulting in less satisfying relationships.
Second, when these unlucky children grow into adulthood, most eventually grasp that their childhood was distinctly harder than a typical childhood. They realize that some or all of the normal guiding principles about how to parent, how to be a family, indeed how to love, that we assume all people instinctively know and value, were and are in fact not known or subscribed to by their own parent. This fact is felt as a very deep betrayal of the parent’s basic human duty to their child, thus adding another layer of pain for the CODOP.
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“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.