By Joy Loverde
After my 80-year-old mom had a stroke, we decided to move her across country to live with me and my husband and teenage son. She is mobile, intelligent, and the only side effect from the stroke is a slight droop in her right jaw—but we all felt it was time for her to stop living alone. We get along fine, but my main problem is that she sits around the house all day watching TV and reading the paper, and relying on me and my husband and kids to be her sole social contact. Now her grooming is starting to slip and she seems a bit withdrawn. There are numerous stimulating opportunities for seniors in our neighborhood--bridge club, swimming classes, a book group—activities she’s enjoyed in her lifetime. I’ve suggested them all, offered to go with her even, but she just says “not yet” or “not today.” What else can I do or say that will help the situation? Her homebody rut is suffocating for us and I think it may be depressing her and she doesn’t know it.
Joy Loverde’s response:
Try, if you will, to look at this situation from your Mom’s perspective; she has experienced a health event (stroke); she’s endured a long-distance move (that alone is significant); and she is no longer queen of her domain and lives under your roof. You describe your mom as a “bit withdrawn” and I suggest that depression has set in.
Mom also appears to be angry – very angry. In addition to dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, your statements, “We decided to move her across country to live with me and my husband and teenage son” and “we all felt it was time for her to stop living alone” suggest that relocating and/or living with you was not what she had in mind even though this living arrangement may indeed be in her best interest in the long run.
What was the decision-making process was like? Was Mom offered several housing choices? Did she have veto power? Was Mom “talked into” the move? Perhaps Mom’s refusal to engage in outside interests is her way at getting back at you, and making you feel guilty is her only revenge. You moved her and now she’s making you pay – emotionally and otherwise.
What’s done is done. So stop running in circles trying to please your Mom and resist making suggestions regarding her getting involved in outside activities. She’s been there and done that and clearly not interested in being busy or social right now. Besides, she may interpret your suggestions as trying to get her out of your house and out of your way.
In the meantime, you are more fortunate than you may realize, and both you and your mom are missing daily opportunities to interact with each other on a deeper level. The simple truth about our elderly parents is this: they seek meaning and validation for their role as our parents, and helping your Mom to achieve these important goals in her eightieth decade of life may be just what is needed to lift her out of her “homebody rut.” Look for part two of Homebody more to learn specific things you and your family can do to help your Mom at this time.