Parenting Your Aging Parents

Parenting Your Aging Parents – loneliness

Francine Moskowitz

Dear Francine and Robert:

My husband and I enjoy caring for his mother in our home. She’s a perky, healthy lady who actually helps out some, whenever she can.

But one thing about her is driving me crazy: if she sees me on the telephone with someone she knows, after I hang up she wants me to repeat every detail of the conversation – both sides!

I don’t mind doing this once in a while, or when the conversation concerns something important or something that involves her personally. But to repeat every word of every conversation takes a lot of time, not to mention that it’s so boring.

How can I get out of repeating all my telephone conversations to my mother-in-law?

Signed, I Want To Say Everything Just Once

Dear Everything Just Once:

It sounds to us like your mother-in-law is lonely, and wants to be more involved in the lives of the people around her.

Fortunately, that’s not an incurable affliction. In fact, there are several simple and easy steps you can take to start working your way out of this uncomfortable issue:

First, consider putting your mother-in-law on the phone the next time she sees you on a call. This works best with family, of course. But you may have some friends who wouldn’t mind speaking to her for a minute or two. Let them.

Second, encourage your mother-in-law to make her own telephone calls. There may be several reasons she’s not doing this now – although the most common reasons are easily solved. For example:

* She may not remember phone numbers. Provide her with a written list of phone numbers for people she might want to call. Set the ones she uses most often on a “speed dialer.”

* She may not be able to work the keypad or dial. Certain telephones have with larger buttons, others offer “voice activation” – so she can make a call just by saying a person’s name.

* She may want more privacy than she gets in the living room or kitchen. It’s inexpensive to add an extension phone in her room, or get a cordless phone (as low as $15 on sale).

* She may worry that in the middle of a sentence she’ll forget what she is saying. Encourage her to write down her main points before she dials.

* It’s even possible that she may refrains from calling because it costs you extra money. Go over your phone bill with her so she can see how cheap her calls would be. If she can afford it, let her pay her portion of the phone bill.

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Dear Francine and Robert:

The hardest part of having my Mom living with us, she moved in last week, is that she calls out for me a hundred times a day.

If I don’t sit with her or keep her company, she’s nervous and upset. I guess she is feeling insecure about her sudden move to our home, and she wants me around.

Frankly, though, I have too much going on in my life to just keep her company for hours. How can I get her to live her own life, without demanding that I be around all the time?

Signed, Need My Space

Dear Need My Space:

It’s fairly common for aging parents who move into their children’s home to experience at least a short period of discomfort. She’s trying to get her bearings and fit herself into your established routines and patterns.

To help your mother find her own fulfilling life in your home will take some time and effort. But the payoff will be huge: once she’s active on her own she won’t demand your company for hours on end.

One part of the remedy is to begin helping her feel comfortable being alone while you’re occupied.

Start by taking time for yourself, perhaps just a few minutes. Tell her you’re cleaning your room, for example, helping your husband with a chore in the basement or garage, or simply taking a nap. She doesn’t have to know you’re using this time to talk on the phone, read, work on your computer, or just relax in front of the TV.

After she can handle being alone for a few minutes at a time, slowly stretch the interval until she’s comfortable without you for hours and hours.

A second part of the remedy is to give your mother the tools to communicate better, not just with you, but with everyone. Start by installing an intercom in your home, or get some of those “family radios” to use as intercoms you can carry with you.

More important, make sure she has a telephone in her room, that she can use it, and that she knows the numbers of her friends and family.

The third part of the remedy is to help your mother look for community activities and interests that might keep her occupied and happy. For example, she may enjoy gardening, playing cards with other women, charity work, the library, or volunteering at a local school. You’ll be surprised at how many terrific opportunities are out there.

Be available and helpful for this search. Whatever time you invest in helping her fill her life with activities and friends will come back to you many times over as the years roll by.

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(c) Copyright 2003 by Francine and Robert Moskowitz

Francine and Robert Moskowitz are the authors of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The toll-free order line is 800-735-0015. The Web site is: The cost is $21.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Francine and Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing them at:

COPYRIGHT 2003 Key Publications

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group