Are you frustrated because your aging mom or dad seems lonely and bored but you’re so busy trying to juggle your daily life? There’s work, kids, and laundry. The taxes don’t do themselves. Your to-do list never seems to get shorter. How can you possibly find time to give Mom or Dad the love and attention they crave?
Here are five simple ideas that can make a big difference:
1. Snail Mail. Your parents’ generation loves snail mail, even more than you do. Nothing is better than getting a note on a real piece of paper from someone you actually know in the mailbox. It doesn’t need to be a long letter. A simple note or a card with one line will do: “Just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.” You could send a newspaper or magazine clipping of a story you think they’ll appreciate. Or print out a picture of the kids making goofy faces.
Note: Don’t worry about doing it for a special occasion. Snail mail on an ordinary day is actually more special than on holidays and birthdays.
2. Ask one good question about their past. The next time you visit or call, make an effort to ask just one question about the good ol’ days. Get Mom to talk about a memory from a happy time in her past. Ask Dad for his proudest moment. Pick something you’ve always wondered about.
Here are some examples:
- How did you and Dad meet?
- Tell me about the vacations your parents took you on when you were growing up?
- Tell me the story of your name (or nickname).
Note: Don’t worry if you've heard this story a hundred times. They’ll love that you asked. If you really listen, ask some follow-up questions, and try to get at the why or the back story, you may be surprised by what you learn.
3. Give them a job. That’s right, your retired mom or dad is just aching to get back to work. Mostly, they want to do things to help you (maybe you’ll stop complaining about all the things you need to do). Here are some ideas for jobs you can give your parent:
- Watching the kids (my mom loves this one!)
- Washing your dishes
- Counseling your teenager
- Ask them for career advice
4. Lend them a book. Have you read a good book lately? Lend Mom or Dad your copy and tell them, “I think you might like this book. I’d love to hear what you think of it when you’re done.” Then, follow up in a month and see how it went. This is a great conversation starter.
If you don’t have a good read on your shelves ask Mom or Dad if they have a good book to lend to you.
5. Hug. It seems really simple. Too simple. But how often do you make a point of hugging? And don’t just make it a quick pat pat pat and back away. Give a hug that says, “You are precious to me.” Settle in. Breathe and be present. Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen Buddhist teacher, has some very inspiring thoughts about what he describes as “hugging meditation.”
When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness.
Read Thich Nhat Hanh’s very grounding advice on hugging.
About the author: Meghan Vigeant works with Mainers to save the voices and stories of their parents and grandparents in book and audio form. If you’d like to learn how she can help your family contact Meghan for a free 30-minute consultation.