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Maintaining Close Bonds with Parents from Afar

“Dear Mom…”

Jenny lifted her pen to look at the Mother’s Day card she was writing. There was a lot of blank space to fill under these words. Something about the empty card was intimidating. She had a lot to say to her mother, yet too few ways to say it. She was at a loss for words.

Jenny’s mother lived far away, in her home town of Raleigh, North Carolina. In Chicago, Jenny’s life revolved around her job and her husband. Though she was an only child, she always felt like her mother was more of a sister than a parent when she was younger. Her mom was just as independent, just as busy, stubborn and strong-willed as Jenny was.

She called her mother when she found the time. The last she heard, her mother was transitioning to an independent living facility, where some of her friends were already. Jenny felt like she hadn’t called enough, but she had been so focused on her own life – confident that her mother would always be okay at home.

Frustrated, Jenny decided to call before continuing her card. She dialed her old childhood home phone number, anticipating her mother’s familiar voice and almost jumped the gun to say, “Hi mom!” before an automated message beat her to it with the words, “This number is no longer active.”

Jenny hadn’t misdialed the number, but she realized she had misjudged the reality of her mom’s situation. Her mother had probably changed her life, moved away or worse – gotten into trouble, and Jenny didn’t know about it. She hadn’t stayed connected to her mother the way she should have.

Jobs and life events tend to separate adults from their parents, especially as the troubled job market leads them to take any job they can get. This can leave children far away from to mom and dad, but it can also lead them to find creative ways to reach their parents.

Letters, packages, cards and deliveries are valuable, tangible items you can send your parents remotely. Phone calls offer a little more intimacy, especially if you feel your parent needs to hear your voice. In addition, technology today allows us to reach parents through live video communication. Whichever medium of connection you choose to bond with your parents from afar, it can make the distance between you seem smaller.

If you are a long-distance caregiver, managing an aging parent’s care can get in the way of bonding if you take more of a “supervisor” or “babysitter” role over your mom or dad. Instead of hovering over your parents, actually take the time to bond with them. This article will give you ideas on how to do that.

Ask…

  • How are you? Mean it when you ask, listen and inquire further on their response.
  • Who’s been keeping you company? Find out who your parents’ friends and caregivers are, then get to know how your parents feel about them.
  • What has been making you happy lately?  Know where your parent sources their happiness. Just telling you about a person, TV show or hobby they enjoy can make your parent very happy.
  • Did you catch that last game? Follow up on your parents’ interests, like sports games they watch, television shows they love or movies that have just come out. If you also share these interests, there is a lot for you both to talk about!
  • Did you know… Let your parent know about family updates or other interesting things that affect either of your lives. Aging parents learn easily by word-of-mouth from people they trust.
  • How was that last doctor’s appointment? Keep a rapport of your parent’s health care. Show that you are both concerned about and up-to-date with their wellbeing.
  • What’s new with… Know what has already been going on in your parent’s life. Ask for updates about things they have been doing.

Say…

  • Family updates Tell your parent about your spouse, your children, or any other relatives that they may not talk to often. Keeping a parent in tune with the family makes them feel like part of a community.
  • General news in both of your communities If you know of important or interesting news in your community or your parents’, talk about them. Maybe there is an important weather update or fun event to look out for.
  • How have you been? Part of the joy of connecting with your parent is letting them know about your life. Talk about work, family, and how you feel about anything else in life. Your parent may be very interested in you.
  • Why you called Sometimes, we feel an invisible nudge to reach out to our aging parents. They want to know why you call. They want to know why and how you care.
  • Who else says hello If someone has told you to say hello to your parent for them, let your parent know. It is nice to know that someone thought of them.
  • What life is like for you Let your parent live a bit vicariously through your adventures through life. Share life triumphs or battles with your parent.
  • Interesting things you’ve learned When you learn something new about other people, technology, politics, celebrities, or anything else, share it! If it interested you, your parent will be interested in finding out why.
  • Health updates If you have a hand in managing your parents’ health care, give them gentle reminders about upcoming appointments.

Send…

  • Pictures You can bet on your parent saving every picture you send. Send a snapshot of your life to give them access to you from far away.
  • News Clippings When a family member, friend, or beloved sports or celebrity figure is in the newspaper, send a clipping of it to you parent. You can also print out news from the web. If you know what news your parent will care about, they may want something tangible as a keepsake.
  • Hobby Items If your parent has a hobby, send them material for it. Craft items, instruction manuals, magazines, or even samples of work encourage your parent to keep up with their hobby.
  • Clothes Anyone can send their parent a new outfit. But if there is spirit wear for your child’s sports team or branded apparel from work that you can send them, they will wear it proudly as a representation of you.
  • Souvenirs When you travel, don’t forget to find something small to send your parent. Just like you might buy souvenirs to remember a good time, your parent might want one to remember you.
  • Work Samples When you are particularly proud of a piece of work, send a copy or review of it to your parent.
  • Children’s Schoolwork Children from any grade level bring home work that they want to show off. After congratulating your child for their artwork, test grades, or essays, send them to your parents to include them in the celebration.
  • Holiday Cards If you are unable to meet face-to-face for a holiday, send a card to show you care.
  • Web Articles or Videos Online, it is easy to email or share content on social media. Share web articles or videos that interest you with your parent. The small gesture lets them know that you are thinking about them.

Learn…

  • Your differences and similarities  As you and your parent age, you may realize you are either more similar or different than you think. Learn characteristics that you share in common with your parent. Learn how they do things differently, and whether it’s good for you to adopt their strengths.
  • Technology Technology typically advances faster than the elderly can learn it but taking the time to help your parent understand a smartphone, tablet or computer might make communication easier with them. Be patient when you introduce technology to your parent. It will pay off.
  • New ways to communicate If there are barriers to break down while you maintain a close bond with your parents from afar, you will inevitably learn new ways to communicate. Already, the distance between you affects how you connect. But growing in adulthood and old age also teaches us how to relate, how to talk like adults and how to listen. Practice and build good, healthy communication with your parents to make the most of your close bond.

 

 

“Maintaining Close Bonds with Parents from Afar,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.

 

 

 

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