Parents of adult children with significant life problems may be deeply affected by the situation, researchers report.
A team led by Dr Kira Birditt from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research set out to examine how older parents respond to difficulties in the lives of their grown-up children. Subjects kept a diary outlining encounters with their children over a number of days, and also provided saliva samples which were then tested for variations in the hormone cortisol which is associated with stress.
More than six in ten of the subjects said they had at least grown up child with a major problem in their lives, while more than a third (34 per cent) said all their grown up children were struggling.
The researchers placed the problems in two categories – physical-emotional difficulties such as illness and lifestyle issues such as drug abuse, comparing the effect on the parents of each.
Dr Birditt reported:
“We found that interactions with adult children who had physical or emotional problems had more immediate, same-day associations with cortisol whereas interactions with adult children with lifestyle or behavioral problems resulted in more delayed, or next day, associations.”
She suggested that those parents whose children have emotional and physical problems focus on the anticipation of problems and on stress reduction, while parents of adult children with behavioural issues might benefit from learning strategies to help them manage their own responses to the situation.
One potential approach is balance positive and negative interactions, Dr Birditt explained:
“If you have a conversation that makes you feel irritated, hurt, or annoyed, try to follow it with one that makes you feel good.”
The story was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.