“You are a concierge medical practice. We pay you a lot of money. You are supposed to look after your patients. Why haven’t you gone to my mother’s house to check up on her? Why haven’t you been there to test her for the virus? You know she’s 87 years old. You know that I am in Virginia. Why don’t you do your damn job? What the hell is the matter with you? You don’t care at all. You are a bunch of overpriced charlatans. What matchbox did you get your medical license from?”
Answer: if you said that this adult child is just trying to access the services to which she is entitled, I have to politely disagree. If you said this adult child is loving and concerned about her aging parent, I have to gently push back. I would suggest that—as is so frequently the case—it is the underlying emotion that is driving the bus. In this case, anxiety is in control.
Yes, in a perfect world, healthcare professionals would have time to make house calls to elderly patients. But the world which was hardly a perfect one a month ago just got a whole lot less perfect. Providers are stretched to the max. They are putting themselves and their families at risk. They are doing the best they can under circumstances that are unprecedented and impossible. They deserve our support and gratitude not grouchiness, entitlement, and “me first.”
“Go take care of my mom,“ has more to do with the speaker than with the doctor on the other end of the call. “What is wrong with you?“ actually means “what is wrong with me?“ The adult child may feel irresponsible, guilty, conflicted, or a host of other emotions. Lashing out at nearest and dearest is not limited to preschool tantrums. Flailing arms and tears in youngsters are replaced by unfounded allegations and misplaced anger in adults. “Why aren’t YOU taking care of my mom?” likely means “why aren’t •I• taking care of my mom?” Because I am 800 miles away. Because I have chosen other priorities. Because I feel G-U-I-L-T-Y.
Let’s pay special attention to our beloved children during this health crisis. Let’s be attuned to the emotions underneath their behavior. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we don’t know exactly what a virus is, what’s going to happen tomorrow never mind three months from now. If your retirement account is down 30%, if you are anticipating a pay cut at work, if you are worried about losing your job, imagine how much more difficult things are for your children who, not to put too fine a point on it, do not understand the rule of 72 or that markets typically bounce back. Of course they are concerned. Uncertainty plus a lack of understanding may result in imperfect behavior.
Which gives you, speaking of unprecedented, a once in a lifetime opportunity to do two things:
- Stand strong. Model appropriate behavior. Be especially understanding.
- Play board games. Like you always said you would. Now is your chance. Kids can learn a bunch about arithmetic, probability, statistics, the expected value theorem, and game theory. And that’s just from playing a few rounds of Parcheesi. The heck with insipid math worksheets. The heck with impersonal virtual instruction. Let’s learn to have fun and have fun learning.
You have talked for years about how great it would be if you didn’t have to work so much, if you could hang out with your beloved children. Now is the opportunity to put your time where your mouth is. Because before you can blink, you will be significantly older. Maybe you and your kids will even live in different cities. And it is not always a perfect coincidence that an adult child wants someone else to take care of their aging parent.