Minimalizing the Old

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Old Age is Not for Sissies


Aging is everyone's fate who lives long enough.  No one wants to die young.  Youth is honored, admired, and envied.  It can be a time when humans have the world open to them.  It is a time when they can make decisions about their life, their future, and more. It is a time when they experience growth, lack of same, disappointments, and more.  They learn about positives, negatives, what is important, and that which is not.  They learn to choose, to imitate, and find that which is comfortable and what is not.  They choose their friends, and recognize those who are not.  They find people with whom they are comfortable and reject those with whom they are not.  There is much to learn at the stage of their lives in which they find themselves.  It is often the time when they search or discover their partner, the person that they hope to marry or otherwise.    They learn or discover what their occupation or profession would be their most worthwhile according to their feelings, their observations, their trials and more.

Their life goal is to be successful and comfortable in what they choose. They want to be their own best decision maker.

Old age is not a choice which the individual makes, it occurs, it happens.  There is much that changes as the years go by.  Their choices are made in many respects according to their circumstances,  their being, their arrival at a particular time or stage in their lives, their accomplishments, their requested or assumed needs.  There is a decided change in how they are accepted, addressed, and considered.  Outsiders may ignore them, direct them, or minimize them.  Their opinions are generally frowned upon, their knowledge is belittled, and they for the most part are ignored or “corrected.’  If they are parents, their children will reverse the role of the father and mother who have raised them. In brief, their offspring become their bosses, their would be parents.  They will belittle their abilities and insist they are incapable of actions that the parent can do effectively  (not riding in  a car with a  capable parent is an example of an emotional castration).  Often they are infantilized as if they were young children and their insights are minimalized and/or ignored. Their wishes and their tastes will be labeled old fashioned and their lifelong learning and knowledge will be ignored.  If the old parent has opinions, they are challenged to illustrate the importance or usefulness of such beliefs. 

Parties and get togethers are frequently segregated by age.  A large group may have been invited to such occasions.  People choose those that are their own age and it is not often that you see a mixture of old and young sitting at the same table enjoying each other's company, unless of course if the old ager has something special to do for the younger and can gain something useful or unique from the prestige of the aged individual. 

Negative outcomes are very frequently attributed to the aged parent.  If an offspring is weak in one or another of his life situations, the  parent is held responsible for the son’s or daughter’s situation.  “If only” the parent had paid more attention to him; if the mother would have taught her to cook; if she had not worked so much and spent more time with her child; if she had only been a more social person, a model for her offspring, then she would have completed her education.  If the father would have shown more affection for his son and been more willing to teach him right from wrong he would be somebody in the world.  Unfortunately there is much more to the denigration of the older parents by the outside world than can here be written.  The “good” that children accomplish as adults are seldom attributed to the love and care elderly parents gave their offspring.     

  Let us remember the fifth commandment:  Honor thy mother and thy father that thou may live long on earth.   


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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