You are a good daughter. You take care of your mom. You are on top of her home care arrangements. You make her medical appointments. You check her refrigerator and bring her groceries when you visit. You encourage her to get out. You review her bills and handle her paperwork.
Chocolate, flowers, a card, and dinner out will continue to be on the agenda for Mother’s Day 2022. You will take the aide along and make sure that all local grandchildren are there.
She really needs the stimulation of an outing and the joy of seeing her progeny. She’s had a hard two years and she’s not getting younger. She’s had bouts of depression during her Covid confinement. She really needs to start going out more now that the weather is good and she is reasonably protected by vaccinations. Planning her entertainment is a constant that is not going away.
You are the caregiver and you are seriously concerned. You have spoken to her primary caregiver and the home health aide is on the alert for signs of dementia and decline. What more can you do, you wonder.
Here are three suggestions for both senior mothers and midlife daughters.
- Understand yourself. Acknowledge that it is a big burden in addition to your other responsibilities to your job, your significant other, and your kids. Own the feelings.
- Consider outsourcing some of the simple tasks to a virtual assistant. That’s a cheaper option than hiring a geriatric care manager. In addition, maybe s/he can relieve you of some of your own burdens. Ask yourself what you can safely delegate.
- Broaden the caregiving circle. Ask each family member to commit to a day a week to engagement with the senior in a mutually enjoyable activity. This can even be done remotely through online games such as Scrabble and Mahjong. Even though the Stanford Longevity Center’s studies show that people’s social circles shrink as they age, seniors are always interested in their grandchildren and family members. To get the others interested is the challenge. However, engaging in an activity together is much easier than keeping a conversation going.
The value of asking seniors about their lives and knowing their stories is increasingly studied and mentioned in the media. It’s good for the senior to reflect on his/her life. The ailing father of New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler was regularly questioned about his military services and memories via email by his children. It improved his mood tremendously, they learned. A former Wall Street professional found closer connection to his father and a happier father through email questions, too. Nick Baum subsequently founded Storyworth, a company that allows a senior to record memories through emailed questions selected. Photographs are collected and eventually a book is printed for all generations to enjoy. Telling the story of one’s life and revisiting its vicissitudes is of inestimable worth.
We are now aware that knowing a family’s history and its details has a powerful impact on children, Dr. Marshall Dukes and Dr. Robyn Fivush of Emory University studied the resilience of children who knew the answers to detailed questions that they put together on the “Do You Know” Scale in 2001. These twenty questions include Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences? Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school? Children who knew more answers were more resilient after 9/11 and other traumas. They have done further work in promoting the true family narrative with its ups and downs, not just a sketchy positive or negative overview.
These are big projects. By breaking them down into manageable pieces for several people will reinforce a family feeling. It will involve all members of a family who may live far from one another. It will also fill a lot of time in a worthwhile way. In addition, you and all your children will have a keepsake and treasure to pass on to the future generations.
As Mother’s Day approaches, celebrate by giving both mother and daughter a say. Encourage mom to tell her story. And reclaim some of your own life and say to others-you do it. Have a say in your own life.