Executive Mental Health LA

Dr. Michelle Feng

Thinking about your aging parents in this crisis can be stressful. They may know to wash their hands and stay at home. But, can you help them feel connected in this time of social distancing, without letting your worry interfere? Is there a better way to say, “Mom, I just called to say… wait, you went where yesterday?”

Reaching out and checking in on loved ones, especially aging parents, can help us and them feel more connected. But not every call, text, or message can help, especially when we ourselves are feeling scared and overwhelmed. Knowing when to call, and what to say, can result in helping our loved ones feel more loved and less blanketed in our own fears.

Below are five tips to help stay connected during this strange time.

1. Check you mood and mindset before reaching out. Before you make that call or send that text, stop and assess how you are feeling in the moment. Maybe even take a few deep breaths. Whether you are excited, bored, or worried, your emotions can set the tone of the call and can be the difference between hanging up in a huff or with a smile. For example, maybe you just finished reading a dismal article on the current state of the economy, and you feel compelled to ask your parents about their finances. Before you do, step back to reflect on how you may be feeling and how that may come across to your possibly already worried parents. Feeling stressed is normal and okay. Identifying it can help keep it in check.

2. Offer ideas and actions, not mandates. As a young child, mom and dad knew what was best for you. As an adult child, however, you may feel compelled to tell your aging parents what’s best for them. While relaying certain information is important, instead of asking whether they’ve gone out to the store recently, try to think about what actions you can take to mitigate the concern. Worried about mom and dad’s eating habits while under quarantine? Share ideas of delicious meals to enjoy one week from now, which can be bought via online shopping. Ask them to take pictures of their food and send it to you and can do the same for them. The back and forth can lead to an increased sense of closeness and engagement. Or, order them a meal from their favorite restaurant to show that you’re thinking about them. And then order a little extra so that you know they have more than enough for the next day. These suggestions and gestures can go a long way, and it also can help manage your own worry.

3. Learn about past experiences and ways they overcame past hardships. Like when climbing a mountain, when one gets to the top of an issue, the perspective helps give sense to the struggle. Our parents are from a generation that has surmounted many personal and societal struggles, and we can help remind them of their resilience today by recalling how they overcame past events. Take the opportunity to learn what they’ve been through and to listen to their thoughts on how to get through tough situations like this one. They will appreciate the chance to share, and some good insight might be revealed in the process.

4. Get creative, find shared activities to connect. A forced change in routine can open up opportunities to try new ways of connecting. Consider sending gifts of activities that can be done together remotely and shared. Video chat while planting seeds in a pot or garden, and share the progress of the seedlings in future calls. Were family dinners part of your weekly routine? You still can connect for virtual meals via group video chats. Even if mom or dad doesn’t speak up, just listening in can bring about a sense of closeness and engagement. You’d be surprised how simple chitchat in a group can help people feel connected. What’s important is to create new ways to connect and talk about other, non-quarantine related topics.

5. Be compassionate with yourself.Emotional fuses can feel particularly short these days. With the stress of everything that’s going on, it can be easy to get upset at others for not abiding by certain rules, or to feel judged by others who don’t understand your full situation. There will be times, after reading this, that you will continue to let stress and fear lead the conversation. It happens to everyone, and it shows that you are human. Take some time to engage in self-care and remember, being compassionate towards yourself will allow you to be more compassionate with others. We’re in this together, it’s going to be okay.