‘Why do some adult children treat their parents so badly’

Oct 27, 2021
The AIFS says if international indications provide any guidance, it is likely that between 2-14 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, with the prevalence of neglect possibly higher. Source: Getty Images

It was very early, sometime between 6am and 6:30am. I was working at my desk when I heard a man’s and woman’s loud voices from the house directly opposite my home. The lady (I’ll call her Sam) who lives there is in her early-60s and doesn’t have a male companion. She’s quiet, unassuming and keeps herself to herself. We wave to each other, exchange pleasantries, but we don’t know each other well.

The male voice was her son (probably in his late-30s) and I’ve never heard a son speak to his mother in such an appalling way! His language was more than just colourful and he used the worst of all the four-letter words. As he stormed out of the house, he was still screaming at the top of his lungs.

I was concerned for her and went onto my small, front verandah on the pretence of turning off the hose. I said something to him as he passed and he promptly told me to ‘shut the f*** up’. Sam must have called her friend (who lives elsewhere in the park) and she arrived to help soothe and calm Sam down.

I could hear Sam sobbing uncontrollably. Thirty minutes passed and her friend came outside to have a cigarette, so I called out to her and said I would put the kettle on and that they could both come over.

I’m a good listener and discovered that not only had Sam recently lost her elderly mother, but had also been made redundant. She couldn’t stop crying! I felt so distraught for her.

Domestic and elder abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, verbal or emotional is a topic frequently discussed. It is insidious, unacceptable behaviour; a blight on society. However, this was the first time I’d witnessed such type of behaviour first-hand.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) says that of the available evidence, most elder abuse happens within the family unit and mothers are most often subject to abuse by their sons. I wondered why Sam’s son was so aggressive towards his mother. I asked why anyone would treat their parents as if they didn’t matter anymore. “They have loved, cared, clothed, fed and educated you and will continue to love you, unconditionally,” I thought.

I became frustrated. Sam’s son has a partner and children and hopefully he will do for them as his mother did for him. But he shouldn’t count on them treating him with respect or caring for him as he ages. If that’s the way he treats his own mother, then part of me hopes they don’t bother about him at all. I’m very much a believer of ‘what goes around, comes around’. Even if his children did take the time to care for him in older age, he might be left feeling as though he’s a burden to them, which is how he’s left his mother feeling.

Conversely, I have a friend. She is 93 years old, as sharp as a tack, lives on her own and has the most beautiful, loving family. Each day she sends them a message on social media and they reply. It’s an example of two different ends of the spectrum.

The Beatles sang that ‘All You Need is Love’ and Aretha Franklin gave us ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T.’ and we need both in this world, I feel.

If you are concerned about domestic and family violence in your family, friends or workplace, contact the Elder Abuse Phone Line 1800 353 374; National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732; Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978; Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277; or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.

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