What you can do to engage your housebound parent when you visit.
The challenge of engaging your parent once she is housebound is a big one. Sometimes it feels like your reserves of creativity are bankrupt. You’re going to visit and what are you going to talk about? What can you do together that doesn’t make you feel like a therapist or a cheer leader?
You want to treat your parent with respect and maintain some level of equality even if you have taken on most of the management, caretaking, and paperwork responsibilities for your aging loved one.
You’ve already exhausted craft projects. You’ve made holiday albums. You make holiday decorations. You do puzzles together. You prepare birthday cards and notes for friends and family with her. You’ve bought adult coloring books and embarked on needlework projects. You’ve made collages and scrapbooks.
Here’s what can be next. Prepare your own visual memoir with her. It will probably turn into a second memoir, a memoir project of her own.
Our mothers always like to help us. That doesn’t change when they get older. According to a 1998 study of 100 women in Contemporary Women’s Issues Database, even when entering a period of necessary caregiving, mothers do not give up the role or image of themselves as nurturers. They still try to protect their daughters when they are infirm.
So solicit mom’s help. Tell her you are doing a pictorial memoir of your life and you need her help. It’s easy to do this in chunks, tackling one era or one decade at a time.
Go out and buy huge Post-its, the kind that you can hang on a wall and that come in a pad that are used together with an easel by workshop leaders. Get some multi-colored markers and a glue stick and you are all set.
You can title the first sheet-my birth and toddlerhood. The next can be my school years. My high school years come next. My college years. My twenties. My thirties, and so it goes.
Together you and your mom can fill in each page with brief titles about your memories of occasions, hobbies, highlights, friends, worst times, best times, favorite outfits, favorite foods, mishaps, etc. You can color code the categories or you may not. Once you get started, you may find mom talking so much you don’t want to stop her. Hang it on the wall.
Then see if you can find some photos in her albums from that era. Affix them to the note with the glue stick and hang the sheet on the wall. Take a photo of it for your records for posterity (your future memoir). Mom will probably be stimulated to talk more about that period in both your lives with whomever is around during the next few days. They can privately let you know what she said.
The next time, you can cover the next era the same way. Bring along some photos from your own collection to mount on the sheet. After a few sessions, you will have the basis for a memoir for yourself and your progeny as well as fun reminiscing with your parent. It’s only a sheet with some topics and photos but you can add a second or third page per era if details come pouring out of the dialogue.
Keep in mind that these sessions may open us some old wounds. Just listen and validate. There is no need to probe painful relationships and family drama. If they come up, just reassure your parent you love them and that they did the best they could. Hindsight will give the adult child a lot more perspective understanding of their parent’s reactions and weaknesses. Now is the time to make things better if tough stuff comes up. You know you are grown up when you forgive your parents.
After you’ve covered your own decades, take your pages home and start on your mom’s life, era by era. She will have experienced this already with you and will join you in preserving her memories for posterity. Use your sticky easel pad and get remembering.
Take your direction from her. She may want to give you rich details for some periods and scant information about others. She may have survived persecution, exile, and abuse. Take your cue from her.
Go with the flow. This is about her and her enjoyment. What you garner for your family history is gravy. You are looking to have fun together. Keep that in mind always.
After these are completed, you may want to give the photos/sheets to your kids and have them make a photo book out of them. Some titles might be: We Travel Down Memory Lane. My Decades in Short. A Short History of Me. Whatever you think will give your parent pleasure once the sheets come down is the determinant. Come back to these articles for more ideas for engaging with your senior.
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