My parents do not have friends -- I feel a lot of pressure to be their social outlet. But, I'm a student and not sure where to draw the line.

Started by

My parents are late 50's/early 60's. They have few friends but they are all at least 8 hours away. My parents are not involved in any sort of religious or social organization. They are immigrants and have limited English skills. We live in an area that has a very small immigrant community, and we don't know anyone that is from the same background in the area. They are not friends with their coworkers and have no desire to be. I feel mounting pressure to be their social life. They had one close friend, but she passed away. I am a graduate student and am very busy. I want to finish school, get a good job and provide a good life for my parents. But I feel like I'm lagging on my schoolwork because of my involvement in my parent's lives. However, I feel that if I was focused in my school work and my own life my parents would be and feel neglected. I love my parents and I enjoy spending time with them. They have no desire to go out and meet new people or friends, but they've expressed to me they feel lonely. And, their actions speak loudly too -- they buy things they don't need constantly. I feel like it's because they want to fill the house since the kids all moved out (my other siblings live far away). I know It's hard to make friends as we get older, and I feel selfish for wanting them to make more friends so I can have some more time to myself. They're lonely but they don't want new friends. They tell me they want me to do well in school but then they do and say things that make me worry and want to be by their side. What do I do?

6 Comments

Gradstudent: You parents have made decisions that effect their lives. If they do not want to be socially involved then there is very little you can do. I'm sorry that you have to be affected by their loneliness, but my suggestion would be that you further your education and make yourself successful. At some time, in the future, your parents may need more from you in assistance with medical needs. You can't begin to make that possible if you spend all your time being their social director.

Maybe they would benefit from moving to a smaller house and being more central to activities. Whatever the case, you can't change them so don't let them hold you back. As they age, it will only get worse. Take this time, while they are healthy, to do you what you need to do for yourself.
I agree you need to continue with you studies and make a life for yourself all you can do is to encourage them to get out and do things that interest them they are being folish and a little selfish expecting you to use your time to help them be happy-it is their decision not to make friends and have lives of their own-it is not your job to make them happy and as they get older they will lean on you more and more-they know they are lonely they have to do something about it-they are not being fair to you. They might be able to volunteer for some activity-you may be able to suggest something and let them go on from there.
I am slightly older than your parents. I can't imagine depending on my kids for social interaction. But ... your parents are immigrants and grew up in a different culture. Our culture and our extended family have a big influence on what we expect. In my piece of the world, it is OK for aging parents, especially widows/widowers to depend on adult children for household maintenance, or for managing finances, or for specific tasks. But it is not OK for them to depend on children for social interaction and for entertainment. Some interaction is expected and assumed. Adult kids might drop over and play cards once in a while, and might invite parents to attend a movie or play or concert. But total dependence is not expected. It is OK for a parent to say, "I'm confused. Would you do my taxes for me?" but it is less OK (in my culture) for them to say, "I'm loney. Would you spend the weekend with me? And next weekend too?"

Grandstudent I don't know, of course, but I'm going to guess that you have a foot in two cultures. That in many ways is enviable, and gives you a broad perspective and many options. But it other ways it must be stressful. For the most part your peers are not burdened by dependent parents (unless they are ill). You need to fit into that culture, working hard on your studies and also making many friends, and trying out various relationships. That is what the mainstream culture expects of you at this stage of your life. At the same time, you love and honor your parents, and don't want to neglect your cultural duties to them. Drawing the line is a delicate matter, and only you can decide exactly where to draw it.

College is an awesome environment to get all kinds of guidance and viewpoints and informed opinions. Seek out people on campus who have experience and knowledge with intercultural activities. Both staff and fellow students can be good sources and may point you to some relevant reading material.

Best wishes to you!
Because your parents are immigrants, they may feel a little unsure of this new environment that they are in. This is what I would try to do:
1. Talk to them. Tell them that you love them very much and you need to spend a lot of time on your studying. Acknowledge the fact that they are lonely. Encourage them to get out. Maybe you could find your local "What's going on in our town" magazine and maybe sit with them and circle a few things that they may be interested in. If they do any of the things, express sheer delight. Your happiness/approval will mean a lot to them. If this does not work, I would:

2. Plan a couple of community related things that you could do together when you visit them. Try to make it people oriented. Eg. Volunteering at a local food bank rather than going to a kite festival. If you involve them in things that you like (and can therefore do as a family), they may be more likely to do them when you are not there. I have found that just my joining organizations, e.g. a book club, friends of the library club, volunteering at a non profit etc, friendships become a lot easier. If your parents are embarrassed by their poor English, they could attend a class which might help them. If this doesn't work:

3. ..well, you just may end up like me! My mother is almost 80 years old and she goes nowhere without me and does nothing without me. I hate it. I am not "allowed" to see a movie without her. I cannot even vacation without her. So now, I just lie to her. Sad, but true. I agree wholeheartedly with both members who have said to take care of yourself first. This is so true.

You are a wonderful, thoughtful, caring human being. It comes across so clearly in your post. So I would try a few different things to see if they work. If nothing works and you have really tried extensively, I would put the focus on you. In my case, no matter how many times I would ask/plead/beg/reason/argue/whatever with my mother to "please for the love of God, go do something" she wouldn't.
Unfortunately, it truly does get worse as they get older.

Have you tried simply asking them why they don't have friends? If you approach the subject very gently and kindly, you may find out the real answer. With this answer, you can then try to help.

Kudos to you for being such a wonderful person to care so much!!
Thank you all for your wonderful advice and comments. I think I knew the answer to my own question but I guess I needed a little support and encouragement from others. I feel selfish and guilty when I'm not with them, but I know I shouldn't. And, I should really focus on becoming a responsible adult now because it'll only get harder to take care of my parents as they get older.

Many thanks to your encouraging and thoughtful words.
It's really very simple. Your parents are grown adults and it appears that they are in full control of their faculties. They have made their decisions and it doesn't appear that they mean to hold you back. If they aren't look beyond their current world for socialization then they must be find what they need within themselves and each other. Focus on your education and better yourself. Don't hold yourself back out of obligation or guilt for them. Trust me, if you're doing wrong by them, you will know it. If they are good parents, they wouldn't want you to hold back on your future either.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support