Ahmed (not his real name) is a 65-year-old man with a long history of mental health problems. He often attends the clinic with his old mother who is in her 80s but insists to attend with him and know everything about his treatment.
Ahmed never married and he lives with his mother since his other siblings moved out with their new families. I once suggested that Ahmed is doing well and it’s OK if he comes alone due to mum's poor health, she looked at me and said in Swahili, "wazazi newazazi." When I asked her to translate she said, “parents will always be parents."
The story of Ahmed and his elderly mother is not unique as we see many parents, especially in the Arabic countries, remain the main support system for their grownup sons and daughters regardless of their ages.
One can understand that when a person is battling mental illness , his or her parents would be the closest to feel their pain and modify their life to care even when other family members are willing to do that. These roles however may be unjustified if the person is in good health yet he still brings his problems to their aged parents who did their share of upbringing. Having said that, some parents enjoy being needed regardless of how inconvenient, that can be.
The situation in the west is entirely different as children leave the family home after the age of 18 so they can be independent and the parents can rest and enjoy their lives while keeping social contact with their children. The idea of mentioning this is not to compare east and west as each culture has its own values that makes it special but rather to describe a difference in children-parents relationships.
The question that pops to mind is, to what degree should parents get involved in their children’s lives? It's natural for parents to want the best for their children but who gets to define best and best for whom?
What if the parents are too involved to take full charge of children's lives? I remember interviewing a young woman doctor who was applying to join a psychiatrist training programme. Her father wrote her CV for her and even wrote her a reference despite not being a doctor himself. He took photos of her seeing patients, collecting blood from them and talking to other patients. He included that in her application folder, which was rather unusual.
During the interview it was clear that the young doctor was not very interested in being a psychiatrist but was trying to fulfil her father's dream.
So how can parents strike a balance between caring and giving the young generation a little more freedom in planning their lives? I personally think the best way is to enable an young person to make choices as early as possible and teach him/her to take responsibility of choices. This way they grow as responsible people who would seek advice from others but take the final decision after deep thinking. This way they don’t blame others when the new couple face marital difficulties.