According to a recent study published in the journal The Gerontologist, older adults with grown children still feel the same stress now as they did when their children were young.
The study’s author Amber J. Seidel, Ph.D., of Penn State York in Pennsylvania, is a family gerontologist and said she got involved with the research because she believes family relationships are important to society.
“I feel that many share this value, yet I think much of the socialization in our culture focuses on the family when children are younger,” she said. “I seek to study topics that help us understand how family continues to be a central part of our lives throughout adulthood, and I encourage considering family-level influences in all situations.”
Seidel and her team of researchers analyzed data on 186 heterosexual married couples in their late 50’s who had, on average, 2-3 adult children.
The parents were asked to rate the different types of support they offer their adult children on a scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being daily and 8 being no more than once a year. Types of support ranged from practical help such as financial assistance to emotional support including advice and discussing daily events.
The parents also rated how stressful they find it to help their adult children, and how much they worry about their adult children, on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “not at all” and 5 being “a great deal.”
Finally, participants reported the amount of sleep they got each night. The wives reported sleeping 6.66 hours per night while the husbands slept about 6.69 hours a night.
The results included that for husbands, the support that they provided their grown children was associated with poorer sleep; conversely, the husbands slept more when their wives reported providing support for the kids. No such impact was seen on the women’s sleep.
However, for women, sleep was impaired by experiencing higher stress with their children. Stress levels over this issue did not appear to affect how much the husbands slept.
Overall, the study found that the giving of support itself affected the men, while stress over the support was what affected the women.
Seidel hypothesizes that the results may be a side effect of how involved many parents are with their grown children’s lives these days.
“Current research on young adults suggests that parents and children are maintaining high levels of involvement,” she said. “Although parents and adult children have always maintained some level of involvement, we do see an increase in what is often termed ‘helicopter parenting’ and ‘landing pad’ children.”
Seidel says that this trend along with the emergence of technology like cell phones and social media gives parents a deeper insight into what is going on in their adult children’s lives, which may lead to more cause for concern.
Parents can help themselves deal with stress by developing healthy coping strategies, which may include better eating habits, exercise, mindfulness, support groups, or therapy.
“It is important to remember that having stress present in our lives is not the problem,” Seidel says. “It’s the inability to cope in healthy ways with the stress that is problematic and may lead to immune suppression.”
She also suggests that parents reflect on their level of involvement in their adult child’s life, how their child is receiving it, and whether they are enabling their child, seeking to control their child, or providing support.
Seidel says future research should continue to explore how the relationships between parents and their adult children can affect all areas of health and well-being.
If you’re past the age of adolescence and still experience your parents stressing over your every move, or if you’re a parent struggling with stress over your grown children — it’s normal!
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