JJ Rousseau wrote about the illusions we live with which separate us like veils from one another; JD Winnicott advised parents to be “good-enough” so that children by being frustrated learn to be motivated. Now Adam Phillips puts these thoughts together in his new book Missing Out. “People become real to us by frustrating us. If they don’t frustrate us they are merely figures of fantasy.”We see in each other basically our idea of what we want the other to be; only by working through a frustrating situation do we really see the other as a separate individual.
So it is with parents and children as well as with spouses. Often our most real relationships are with our siblings if we are permitted to face frustration moment by moment as children in the same household.When the fantasized “other” no longer can fulfill the requirements of our fantasy, we have to rethink and reformulate our relationship. Sometimes problems occur when the adult child tries to parent the older parents by managing their money or where the older couple lives.
Sometimes the parent does not let go of his/her dreams and ambitions for the now adult child and continues to treat the person as a child, criticizing and demanding more than the person is capable of achieving.And when a spouse develops a debilitating condition? Most times the transition is slow and both parties adapt. But when any one partner refuses to see the reality of their changed lives, conflict occurs because the fantasized relationship no longer exists, no matter how much anyone tries to hide it.
The adult children still expect the gifts and total unconditional love they fantasized about or even received in the past; the parent is no longer able to function in that role. Often the child gives up on the parent and separates him or herself or blames the second marriage partner for “changing” the parent.And the adult children and the spouse who can accept the reality? We caregivers then assume greater and greater responsibility, getting assistance wherever we can, are content with our memories, yet we grieve long term for the losses of companionship, physical joy and help and often financial providership. We feel at the same time rewarded by a recognition from our loved one who has Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, by a smile or a loving word which validates our need to be present to enjoy the last years, months, days and moments of our loved one’s life.