Adult children in the dark about aging parents

December 08, 2005

A psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis is conducting research that shows two adult siblings may have radically different views on what their parents would want. In fact, he says that a random stranger might have the same chance at guessing parental wishes as some children would.

According to Brian Carpenter, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, there is no clear indicator of which children will be "good" predictors, nor which ones will be "bad" predictors of their parental lifestyle preferences. There is some evidence that children who perceive their relationships as emotionally closer are better. There seems to be no significant correlation between gender, age, or geographical proximity of children and parents and whether or not a child is a "good" or "poor" predictor of parental wishes. Carpenter's research, which is ongoing, will seek to determine what characteristics do correlate with being a "good" predictor.

Carpenter discussed the nature of his research in the Sept. 2005, edition of the American Psychological Association newsletter. The Brookdale Foundation and the Administration on Aging support his research.

Carpenter has conducted research suggesting that adult children have a broad range of accuracy at predicting parental lifestyle, financial, housing, and medical preferences. Some children are no more apt to make the correct choice for parents than a random stranger, while other children can accurately determine the wishes of their parents.

As indicated in the Terry Schiavo case, determining what a loved one would want is neither a simple nor clear decision. "When you're at that moment, when you have to say, 'Yes, let's discontinue life support, ' that's really challenging psychologically, no matter what your beliefs were before that moment," said Carpenter. "That's the one case that made the news, but these kinds of decisions get made every day."

Autonomy, personal growth matter to aging parents

Initially, Carpenter began the study by interviewing one child of aging parents, asking them to guess what their parents might answer to questions about everyday lifestyle choices. The study was expanded by then extrapolating the method to study more than one child of aging parents and determining responses to a broad array of preferences, such as psychosocial preferences, preferences regarding medical care, and pragmatic preferences such as financial decisions. Overall, the most poorly predicted decisions involved preferences regarding autonomy and personal growth. Children tend to believe that independence and continued education, exploration, and growth are less important to parents than parents say they are. So children think their parents aren't that interested in attending cultural events, traveling, reading, staying abreast of current events, and making their own everyday choices when those things remain important to older adults.

The question that Carpenter and his colleagues seek answers for is: "What makes children good at predicting parental responses to these questions?" The research team is examining whether family dynamics and interaction style --- a tendency to interrupt one another, speak over one another, or make critical comments -- could predict the ability of a child to be a "good" predictor. Additionally, once they identify what characteristics of the family relationship make children good predictors of parental wishes, how can those characteristics be applied or taught in other families?

Carpenter's research also includes an educative portion, in which they construct a workbook for each family member, matching parental and child answers to each question.

"In the workbook and family education session, we also provide tips about communications skills and decision-making strategies, helping families figure out how to start and then have these conversations in a way that's most useful," Carpenter said. Disparities in answers are discussed together, thereby facilitating the initial conversations about parental mortality and wishes later in life, topics that some families find difficult to bring up.

Carpenter stresses that such conversations are part of a larger process. It takes many conversations and much time to know parents well enough to determine their wishes and desires later in life.

During the holidays, when we spend time with our families and friends, it is difficult to imagine a parent falling ill. And while the holidays might not be the timeliest occasion for potentially difficult conversations, Carpenter says that it is essential to begin an open dialogue between parents and children regarding wishes later in life.

Washington University in St. Louis

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to