The time has inevitably arrived. Your mom is aging right before your eyes. You smile because you remember the good memories, but there is a certain pain and uncertainty that comes with this time. You see it in her eyes too. She wants to stay strong for you as she always has, but she understands that it’s time to pass the torch of care to someone else.
So what can you do to help your mom through this process while also helping yourself through it too? Here are a few things that will help you both age gracefully with as few tears as possible.
Call Your Mom
“Aging parents want to hear from their children,” says psychotherapist and author Christina Steinworth, MFL, “It’s the number one thing they wish for from their children.” It may seem like it’s too easy of a concept, but a simple phone call to connect with your mom has a great impact.
Make it a regular activity to call your mom. Set a reminder on your phone, stick to a schedule (like Monday morning after dropping the kids off at school)—and do what it takes to make regular communication a priority. Knowing that you care enough to pick up the phone and call (especially in the age of texting), will let mom know you aren’t too busy for her no matter how crazy your life gets. And you’ll likely start to look forward to it yourself as it becomes a habit.
On that note, mom might like to try texting, too—so if you haven’t already, get her a smartphone and teach her how to use it.
Encourage Physical Activity (and make it fun!)
Ask any doctor and they’ll tell you the importance of regular physical activity, no matter your age. Don’t let aging parents convince you otherwise. Find a fun activity that is low-impact, so it doesn’t feel like a chore for mom. A brisk walk through her favorite park or garden, yoga classes, or even light weight-training can get the blood pumping and release endorphins to boost her mood. Even a slow, short walk will be beneficial if her limitations require taking it a bit easy.
Check with your local community to see what activities are available for seniors. Many parks, libraries, recreation clubs, etc. host community-friendly events that bring seniors from all walks of life together. And if you’re able, meet mom every once in a while and engage in the activity with her. You’ll strengthen your bond and get those same physical and mental boosts.
Advocate for Your Mom
There will be times when you must step up and be the voice for your aging mom. If your mom is battling an illness, taking medication, or dealing with other sensitive issues, it’s vital that you do your homework. Being knowledgeable about what’s going on in her life and what she needs to thrive will be useful as mom ages. You’ll gain peace of mind knowing you have what you need to help her, and it can give you a sense of control during a time that can be uncertain.
Mom won’t always remember all the small things like she did while you were growing up (she always knew everything!). Keep a notebook to jot down important information you hear when visiting the doctor, lawyer, landlords, etc. You’ll be thankful you did in the long-run.
In her book, Long Distance Caregiving, Emily Butler-Morton talks about the importance of having a “paper trail” that can provide a source of information during an event of an emergency.
“This would be everything from date of birth, birthplace, medications, allergies, children’s names, physicians’ contact information, etc. Addresses of banks and financial institutions should be included. Names of pets, the veterinarian, and pet medical records are also needed. There should be information on burial plans, wills and testaments, etc. As you can imagine the more information included in this document, the easier it would be for someone to step in at a time of crisis.”Emily Butler-Morton
Understand the Impact of Emotion
When parents age, adult children may feel a plethora of emotions, and it’s important to address these emotions before they become an issue. The same goes for the aging parent. Aging is a part of life, and end of life care is just as important as any other stage of life. While no one ever wants to admit that they feel helpless, an aging parent can start to lose their grip on reality and begin feeling as if they are a burden. Reassure your mom that you genuinely care about her well-being, but most importantly, that you value time spent no matter the occasion.
It is also possible for mom to feel a level of resentment or abandonment, especially if some of her adult children are more involved than others. Caregivers, too, can start to feel overworked and undervalued if they don’t have enough help.
Be open with one another and talk through your feelings. More times than not, you’ll find out that simple gestures and communication can take a good amount of strain off of your relationship. And if things get bad, consider speaking with a therapist who specializes in family dynamics.
Relive Memories Together
If mom is moving into a smaller space or an assisted living environment, she’ll need help downsizing her belongings. Moving is never a pleasant experience no matter the circumstance, so making it an activity you tackle together can alleviate some of the stress and give you the chance to relive some of your fondest memories.
Remember to keep your cool. You’re there to assist, not add to the burden. If mom is struggling to throw away unnecessary items, help her process her emotional attachment by encouraging her to share memories with you. If it’s something she can’t keep but doesn’t want to leave behind, consider taking a picture of the item to place in a keepsake album.
Remember You’re Not Alone
While it may seem like you are alone in this process and that it may never be as good as it once was, remember that you aren’t the first—or last—to go through it. Lean on the advice of those who have been there before and take heart knowing that this stage of life will have its own type of beautiful memories.
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