12/29/2011 04:56 EST | Updated 02/28/2012 05:12 EST

Are Our Elderly Parents the Entitlement Generation?


Two years ago my friend told me he'd reached the breaking point with his elderly parents -- but two years later he soldiers on.

Knowing him, even though he vocalized his feelings back then, the real moment of truth likely came much earlier.

So, he's probably three or four years past the breaking point.

Sam is an only child who lives a good 40 minute-drive from his parents' house. And he is the first person they call for the most ordinary and the most critical of issues, even though he has established numerous support systems minutes from their home.

The lawnmower is out of gas, call Sam; Dad fell and cut his head, call Sam; I mixed up my walker with my friend's walker, call Sam.

The entitlement generation

To say that Sam's parents are demanding may be an understatement. He says they're the entitlement generation.

But how can that be? Aren't our kids the entitlement generation? Doesn't every nine-year-old kid need a BlackBerry?

And what about us, the self-absorbed boomers who make everything over in our own image?

Today's seniors are the self-sacrificing ones who devoted every ounce of energy to raising us, to saving the world from tyrants and to building the great country we enjoy. Aren't they the ones who always put themselves last and are grateful for any attention or help we can provide?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Where do the demands come from?

Perhaps there is a feeling among some of today's seniors that since they've done so much for us, we should do whatever they ask.

Or as my friend thinks, seniors have become demanding because they've been spoiled by all the social supports they enjoy such as veterans benefits, work pensions and endless discounts. They are so determined to get all they can from these deals that they've become equally demanding of their kids' time and attention.

Once selfish, always selfish?

Another boomer friend is absolutely certain that our parents are getting more selfish as they get older. Are they? Or was the selfish senior a selfish younger adult too?  Maybe these traits are just exacerbated by age, increasing frailty and illness.

And maybe the dynamic between a demanding parent and a "pleaser" child just gets more pronounced when 30 years is added to the mix. Is this just how patterns of family dysfunction evolve as family members age?

The perfect storm

It may be. Add in the loss of control over their own lives that many seniors experience, their disinclination to ask for help from strangers, their damaged pride and increasing insecurity as they become more removed from the world and more dependent on us, and you have the perfect storm for demands of all sorts.

Accept that your parents won't change

For endlessly optimistic boomers who think change is always possible, this situation is very hard. Our parents' behaviour isn't likely to change and they may not be aware of how much pain and stress they're causing us.

Their generation kept things to themselves and didn't seek outside help, so getting Mom to a therapist ain't happening in this lifetime. Ditto for meditation class.

But either could be an option for you if the stress is becoming too much.

Learning from experience

The good news is that dealing with the demands of elderly parents provides lessons in how to cope better the next time.

When Sam's mom called in a panic because she and her friend had mixed up their walkers Sam said, "So you've got a walker? Then it's not an emergency, is it?" The car stayed in the driveway and Sam stayed home. Canada's Guide to retirement living