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Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Adult Child and Elderly Parent

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Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite—derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth—or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Adult Child and Elderly Parent

The relationship between a child and their elderly parent can be riddled with challenges. Oftentimes, the child must care for the aging parent as their health needs rise and their ability to maintain independence declines. But the roles are sometimes reversed, with an elderly parent still needing to fill the parental role for their adult child. If existing conflict is a major factor in the relationship, dynamics such as neglect, resentment, and strife may preclude each party from meeting one another’s needs.

Relationship Dynamics
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict. 

An elderly parent and adult child who speak everyday (via phone, Skype, FaceTime, etc.) and offer mutual support
The younger party caring for their aging parent in the child’s home
An elderly parent who actively supports the child and their family (babysitting, driving them to the airport when they’re going out of town, helping out financially, etc.)
An amiable relationship that is distant or superficial
One party only reaching out to the other when they need help
One party being ignored or neglected by the other
Personality differences or past wounds making intimacy between the parties difficult
One party verbally or physically abusing the other
A codependent dynamic
One party tolerating the other for short periods of time until they can’t take being with them anymore
The two being unable to stay in the same room together
An estranged relationship between the two
An open feud going on between the two

Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
The elderly parent getting injured, falling ill, or receiving a life-changing medical diagnosis
The spouse of either party leaving or dying
Either party losing their home or financial stability
The elderly parent losing the ability to function independently (driving, maintaining property, caring for themselves, etc.)
The child moving far away
The child having a baby, which brings an estranged parent back into their life
The elderly parent changing their will
The elderly parent re-marrying
The child no longer being able to pay for assisted living or in-home care for the aging parent
The elderly parent being the victim of a crime or abuse at the hands of a caregiver
Communication methods such as phone or email no longer being available
The elderly parent disagreeing with the child’s choices
Either party revealing a long-kept secret
A repressed memory involving the two parties surfacing
The child’s spouse refusing to be a part of the elderly parent’s care
The elderly parent expressing end-of-life or palliative care preferences the child does not support

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The elderly parent wanting to maintain independence, and the child not believing that he or she is capable
The child wanting to help an ailing parent but having other responsibilities that make it difficult to do so
The child wanting to help a parent who is unwilling to agree to the child’s reasonable requests (not making racist comments in front of the grandkids, stopping smoking in the child’s house, etc.)
The parent wanting to be cared for by the child while the child wants to bring in outside help
The elderly parent refusing medical care or support that the child feels is critical
Both parties disagreeing about the level of care the elderly parent needs
The child wanting the elderly parent to move in with them but the parent wanting a different arrangement
One party wanting an unreasonable amount of gratitude for the role they’re playing
The child wanting access to the elderly parent’s money

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Independent and Needy, Judgmental and Oversensitive, Responsible and Uncooperative, Trusting and Manipulative, Nurturing and Withdrawn, Controlling and Rebellious, Persuasive and Weak-Willed

Negative Outcomes of Friction
The parties becoming estranged
Feelings of resentment and anger growing within the relationship
Fighting with other family members about the parent’s care
The needs of the elderly parent being neglected
Feeling inadequate to meet the needs of a loved one
An elderly parent seriously declining due to lack of care
The elderly parent feeling as if they have no control over their own life
Both parties experiencing a loss of privacy
Either party refusing to change and grow

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Coming together through a divorce, a challenging birth, or the death of a loved one
Working together to meed the needs of a grandchild
Needing to find a care scenario that will satisfy both parties
One party being diagnosed with a serious illness or facing financial ruin
One party being able to share wisdom and insight, challenging the other party’s perception of him or her
The two parties needing to cohabitate to meet each other’s needs

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Close proximity requiring both parties to become more accommodating and accepting
The passing of valuable knowledge and insight into family history and life lessons
One party seeking to become more like the other (in a good way)
Receiving love and appreciation for filling a need
Recognizing the importance of the parent’s role in the child’s life and deciding to value them and nurture the relationship before it’s too late
Having an opportunity to do things differently or start over (if there has been previous turmoil)

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, Crossroads, Death, Depression, Disorder, Endings, Family, Friendship, Health, Hope, Illness, Inflexibility, Journeys, Knowledge, Love, Passage of time, Refuge, Sacrifice, Suffering, Unity

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

The post Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Adult Child and Elderly Parent appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

The Bookshelf Muse is a hub for writers, educators and anyone with a love for the written word. Featuring Thesaurus Collections that encourage stronger descriptive skills, this award-winning blog will help writers hone their craft and take their writing to the next level.


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