Your Aging Parents: What to do when You’ve Got Nothing to Talk About

How often do you speak with your aging parent(s)? Now, I’m not referring to those quickie phone calls in which you make sure that Mom’s caretaker has been showing up and that her groceries are being delivered. What I want to know is: How many times a week do you actively engage in a give-and-take, genuine conversation with your elderly parent(s)?

If you’re like many of the adult children I counsel today, the answer is surprisingly low … and the number one reason I’m hearing for this lack of engaged conversation has nothing to do with the grown child’s hectic schedule. Rather, many adults fail to speak with their aging parent(s) because conversation has become stilted and awkward, as daily life becomes less relatable between the generations. As one client in his 40s said to me recently, “We just have nothing to talk about … it feels really sad.”

With that, I am sharing a few tips for creating better dialogue with your elderly mom and/or dad. You both deserve to have better conversations.

1. Ask questions—about your parent’s life, childhood experiences, memories, etc. It may even help you to jot down a few questions in advance of the phone call. Show Dad or Mom that you’re interested in their life and history, and at the same time take the pressure off of everyone. Not only will this help to fill the conversational void, but you’ll learn a whole lot about the person who raised you. (Note: Consider using an app on your phone to record these conversations for future reference.)

2. Speaking of phone calls … today’s technology makes it possible to connect face to face no matter where each individual is located, and all each party needs is a computer, a tablet, or a Smartphone. Walk your parent through getting set up on FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom. If you think this might be too complicated for Mom or Dad, have them download WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Both of these platforms allow for sending photos, texts, voicemails, and even video chats. They are simple and free to use, no matter where in the world the parties are located, and are cross-platform. I truly believe that a visual interaction could be more engaging as well as more revealing of moods and parental wellbeing.

3. If you happen to live near your mom or dad, ask them if there’s a class they’d like to take or a hobby they’ve always wanted to try (or rediscover), and sign up together. Then take time after class to grab a snack or a meal and let the conversation flow. If you don’t live near each other, encourage Mom to sign up for that class anyway, then make sure to call weekly to hear all about it.

4. Find a book you both can read. Provide Mom or Dad with a Kindle e-reader so that you may also deliver e-books and audiobooks (often available free for checkout from your local library) directly to your loved one’s online library. (If they have a tablet, simply make sure that the Kindle app or other appropriate app is downloaded to it.) Agree on a “read by” date and then get together in person or by phone/FaceTime, etc. to discuss your individual perspectives.

Finally, when chatting with your parent, remember to enunciate your words and to speak slowly. Many senior citizens have difficulty hearing, and cell phone connections can contribute to the problem.

The world has changed exponentially in just the past few decades. Your parents did not grow up with an internet, or even with a home computer. Life was simpler in many ways, and it was certainly slower. With just a little creativity and a bit of legwork, you and your parent(s) can find a way to relate to communicate meaningfully—and that’s irreplaceable.

For more ideas and personal assistance in navigating sometimes difficult familial conversations, please get in touch. I am here to help.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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