There comes a time when you realize that your parents won’t live forever. A friend or colleague’s loss of a parent may alert you of this stark reality. Or, it may be your own parents’ health or living situation that sparks this awareness. No matter the cause, many people feel a sense of urgency to strengthen the bond with their aging parents. Thankfully, it’s possible to reclaim relationships, repair old wounds, and get to know your parents on a deeper level.
1. Be Present in Their Normal Routine
Life gets busy, especially as you earn caregiver status for your aging parents. Add the complexity of careers, children, and other obligations; the minutes fly by even faster. Reclaim moments and memories by prioritizing presence with your aging parents.
Use a must-do errand like food shopping to spend time with one another. You’ll complete your regular tasks and be on hand to assist with high-dexterity tasks that get harder with age. Before you know it, grocery shopping may be one of the parts of the week that you and they look forward to most. Plus, as a non-holiday, low-planning activity, there’s less stress, leaving plenty of time to chat and reconnect without added pressures.
For those whose parents are in an assisted living or nursing home, look no further than the facility’s social calendar. A bonus for many residents is the availability of crafting groups, performances, and special meals. Tag along with regular programming and experience these opportunities together.
While you’re there, be sure to observe the quality of care they’re receiving. As a regular visitor, you’ll get a baseline for what’s typical and if things are concerning. Ask questions of their providers, take notes, and reach out to a nursing home abuse attorney if needed. Many times, they can provide standard-of-care guidelines and coach you on what information is needed.
2. Establish Regular Get-Togethers
There’s nothing like a holiday to get the family together, but it’s time to look beyond the standard calendar. Holidays are a great reason to gather, but as mentioned, they bring their own pressures and schedule constraints. Instead, launch or lean into your own family traditions to create opportunities to come together.
If you live nearby, invite them to your home for a meal when there’s ample time to socialize. Try out new recipes or even bring out the family cookbook and make something special. Oftentimes, these instances bring out stories, recollections, and family history that otherwise would stay buried in memories. This can be especially therapeutic for those experiencing memory issues, as tactile work can unearth what otherwise would be lost.
If there’s a distance between you, try this experience digitally, and cook together over video. In the absence of proximity, connecting digitally with video can help bridge the gap between when togetherness is possible. Make extra of less immediately perishable items, like cookies and breads, and send them to loved ones in the mail. Doing so is an extra way to share the love, and it’ll help long-distance family members feel as if they were almost there.
Look ahead to the months ahead and in between holiday gatherings. Invite your parents to attend children’s school and sporting events, which otherwise get monotonous. With a little extra planning, a middle school basketball game can be something special. If mobility allows, plan a family vacation that suits everyone’s interests and abilities. Sharing time for days at a time, without the distraction of work and home tasks, allows deeper connections to develop.
3. Spend Time Listening
Humans naturally want to be heard, but if you’re spending more time talking than listening, it’s time to get quiet. As a caregiver for your aging parents, you do need to speak up. But too much vocalizing can have a devastating effect: silencing your parents’ voices. Over time, this can lead to their pulling back from your relationship, especially if their pride is bruised.
Instead, monitor how frequently you’re speaking in your interactions and how often you’re truly listening. Include moments of waiting and preparing for your turn to speak, which likely happens more than you realize. When you’re focused on listing out your next talking points, you’re zoning out from what they’re saying. If you think they don’t notice your mind is elsewhere, think again.
Try keeping notes on your phone or in a notebook on items you want to discuss with your parents or their care team. Keep a running list to help you keep track and bring the list out at the right time. This can help you feel confident that nothing slips through the cracks and you can focus on listening.
Use this newfound clarity to keep an ear out for vocal changes, key words, or avoidance of topics or issues. These things can reveal latent issues, concerns, or opportunities for deeper conversations.
Ask open-ended questions to keep the words flowing, no matter the topic. If you’re helping them clean out old boxes, ask about the contents. A simple question about an old photo may have you gaining a greater appreciation for all that they are.
By listening, you give your parents the opening to be vulnerable, share their experiences, and get to know you as peers. You’ll enjoy a deeper connection with one another, learn more about the past, and gain insight for your years ahead.
It’s Never Too Late to Create Meaningful Relationships
No matter how much time has passed or the distance between you, building a relationship with your parents is possible. Relationships, at their core, are built with time, proximity, and shared experiences. When you prioritize creating this blend, you set the foundation for strong connections. With intentionality, persistence, and patience, you’ll get to know your aging parents on a deeper level. By strengthening your bonds, you’ll enjoy the lifelong gift of a meaningful relationship with one another.