about them Bears?
October 18, 2010 8:49 PM   Subscribe

I need to start calling my mom more often. We are not close. We are both bad at small talk. What the heck do we talk about?

Generally my dad is the point of contact (he'll call me, I'll call him--not often, 2-3 times a month), and I'll talk to my mom, too, if they're in the room together. I call my mom for holidays/birthdays. My mom has called me maybe (maybe) 10 times in the last 6 years since I moved away. We don't hate each other, but we haven't had a nurturing mother-daughter relationship since I was a small child. I am not looking for one.

When I was talking to her this weekend she requested I call her more often. (Of course I said she could call me any time, but she doesn't want to bother me, etc.) I have no problem calling her more often, except that we have nothing to talk about. Covnersations are usually filled with long, awkward gaps.

It would be easier to chat if I had more stuff going on in my life, but I don't. I am unemployed and have been unsuccessfully job-searching for a while, and spend my days, well, job searching. I have never felt comfortable talking to her about my relationships, so other than boyfriend-is-well, that's all on that front. I am not planning to get married any time soon, I am not planning to procreate any time soon. She is fine with both of these things, thankfully, but I point it out to show that I have either 1) nothing good to talk about or 2) only bad news. I have a lot of crafty hobbies (most of which have been put on the back burner due to my current lack of funds), but sometimes when I talk about those I get, "that's nice, but you should be spending that time your job search."

Generally I let her vent about her job, we talk about whatever stupid thing my brother has done recently, my grandma's health (which is a sticky subject, since my grandma and I had a falling out a little over a year ago because my boyfriend's not white enough for her--a whole separate drama entirely), and, well, not a whole lot else.

**You can skip to here if you don't want to read all of that.**

I can't believe I'm actually asking this, but my question is:

What do you talk to your mom about?

Or, you need a broader question, what do you talk about with relatives you're not particularly close to? I need a list of topics!

If it matters, I am in my mid 20s, she's in her late 50s. We live very far apart, so all communication is by phone.

And please, guys, don't recommend counseling or therapy for us. I realize we have an "unhealthy" relationship, but neither of us are interested in being close with each other--it just doesn't work with our personalities. All I want is to have something to talk about so that when we do talk it's not as boring/awkward.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I got some good answers previously.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:52 PM on October 18, 2010

- Gossip about cousins
- I tell her what anyone that she remembers from my high school years is up to (via Facebook) - I skim through my high school list for this purpose
- Bitch about people that don't matter to her (my SO's brother-in-law, my landlord)

I don't care about this shit but it is something to talk about.
posted by k8t at 8:58 PM on October 18, 2010

I tend to find ways to send my mom off on a tangent. For example, she gets really "fired up" about politics. Thus, I will ask her about some particular newsworthy issue. Or, she has a really volatile relationship with her mother. It's always handy to ask about her mom - it sends her over some verbal diarrhea edge.
posted by AlliKat75 at 8:58 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is there a TV show that you both like? For a while I called my dad weekly after Ally McBeal, when I was too awkward to talk well on the phone to him and he was at something of a loss for topics with a teenaged daughter away from home. When it finally ended we were already in the habit of chatting. :)

I also remember that show much more fondly than it deserves and watched it well after it jumped the shark for these sentimental reasons!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:02 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My mom hates talking on the phone and small talk, so our phone conversations are generally short, even though I would like to spend more time talking to her. I call her at least once a week, and we probably spend 5-10 minutes on the phone. Sometimes less.

I always try to steer the conversation toward her interests - she is a Netflix junkie, so we always spend at least 2-3 minutes talking about what television shows and movies she's been watching, and bonus points if I've seen them too (we almost hit 15 minutes of straight conversation when she was watching the Project Runway seasons - boy, did she ever hate Kenley).
posted by kerning at 9:08 PM on October 18, 2010

I mostly talk to my mother about books and films and politics. The politics bit is pretty safe because we live in different countries.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:11 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom and I are terrible at small talk as well, so after the initial "how is husband/grandmother/cat/job" questions, I ask her about her cats and then she talks for a very long time. After about 10 minutes I wrap it up with "well, I've gotta run to dinner now, talk to you soon". You don't have to make them all long conversations, especially if you're talking more often than you were. Just ask how everyone/thing is, share a few anecdotes, and wrap it up until the next one.
posted by bedhead at 9:19 PM on October 18, 2010

This is the only--and I mean only--reason I watch Dancing with the Stars. I usually skim over it while doing something else, but watch enough to know what's going on if my mom says, "Oh, could you believe that (rumba, tango, etc.) that so-and-so did?". Usually takes about 20 minutes for a two hour show.

So seconding the comments about finding something external in common, but also stressing that while it's great if it's something you like already, it doesn't need to be. If you don't have cable, a lot of the shows are online.

Now if only I could follow my own advice with regard to my dad...
posted by stellaluna at 9:32 PM on October 18, 2010

I talk to my mother about every other day, or when things are weird or interesting, every day. Since Google started letting me call phones from my computer, I talk to her even more often.

I pretty much share everything in my life with my mother, so finding things to talk about is really not hard at all. She likes to know all the mundane details, like what I'm making for dinner or what's going on at work, or thoughts about renovations to my condo or getting my finances in order. She likes to hear about all the personalities at work, and what I could/should/nt do next. She's got lots of good advice on pretty much any subject, but she's not really much of an advice giver; we just talk things through. She doesn't scold me if I don't do what she recommended. She knows we're different people. I guess in these conversations it's not so much mother-daughter as mother and fully-respected adult daughter. I wouldn't say we're friends, because that's a totally different relationship, but we have a very close relationship that's nothing like the mother-daughter relationship when had when I was still at kid living at home.

We talk about things that are going on in the world and what it all means. But if nothing's going on then we talk about the weather, and plans for the weekend, or tv shows she saw, or the news (our current bastard of a prime minister is a good topic, or the fact that they have nearly made prostitution legal in my province). When I'm visiting we have breakfast together and have the same kinds of talks; we can sit and talk for hours about nothing in particular.

Typical questions:

How's [sister]?
How's [aunt/uncle]?
What's dad up to?
How are the grandkids? (because we talk so often, I have specific things to ask, like "is [nephew] still sick?" or "how's [nephew]'s new school?"
How's [brother-in-law]? (He has colitis, so I can ask about his health specifically.)
Wasn't yesterday a beautiful day? (we could have a whole conversation about this. What we did, how warm it was, how sunny, here's what I did, I took a walk, I went to the store, I saw this, etc. etc.)
I really want to improve my garden, but it's so shady and mostly clay. Any suggestions on what plants I could plant out there?
Should I renovate or sell, do you think?
Should I upgrade my credit card to this fancy new thing they're offering with more points?
How's the dog doing? (he's currently mostly blind and mostly deaf, poor soul.)
Reading anything good?
How are you doing? What's going on? What's new?
How was your trip? (My folks travel a lot.)

Sometimes I ask questions about my mother's youth, particularly lately because of Mad Men. My mom worked in an office when everyone smoked and drank at work and she has lots of stories to tell me. She doesn't watch the show, but I ask her when I see stuff if that's what it was like. But other times I ask her about other things, like what it was like in Germany just after the war, or what it was like to have to be introduced to her father after he came back from the POW camp. But I guess those are special kinds of conversations.

I never call with an agenda, but we have no awkward pauses either. Once you get the hang of chatting regularly, I bet you will end up with a closer relationship than you expect.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:37 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

"What do you talk to your mom about?"

Mostly she asks intrusive questions, judges me, and gives unsolicited advice.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:44 PM on October 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

Used to talk to my Dad once a week: "How's the weather in Seattle?" "How's the weather in Denver?" "How are the kids?" ("fine" no matter what was happening) "The Broncos are looking good" (check the sports page first) Absolutely banal conversations about nothing in particular, pretty much the same conversation every week.

I cannot tell you how much I miss talking to my Dad about the weather in Denver.

Don't worry about the topic. Call and chat for 10 minutes.
posted by kestralwing at 10:57 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mum and I talk about each other's health, my husband's health, what's up with various relatives, her cleaning lady and lawn guy (yeah, really, they're almost family), what's going on in her yard, the weather, movies, books, anything either of us have done to our homes, pets and so on. Not all topics are talked about each phone call, of course.

No one phone call is very long - 10 to 20 minutes tops. Neither of us are fond of talking on the phone and have been using Skype which we both prefer. So, remember the phone call doesn't have to be long, especially if you're calling more often.
posted by deborah at 11:26 PM on October 18, 2010

you can ask her questions/advice about topics she is knowledgeable on. (how to cook something, where to buy something, etc). Will make her feel helpful as well as give you things to talk about.
posted by bearette at 11:40 PM on October 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

I talk with my mom, on average, a couple of times a month (more frequently if there's some immediate pressing need; less frequently, like once every 4-6 weeks, isn't totally unheard of). We don't have a lot in common at this point, so we have managed to make most of our relationship consist of conversations about our dogs. What the dogs are up to, how much we love our dogs, how much we loved the dogs we used to have, how much we like seeing dogs in the neighborhood when we take our dogs for a walk, how worried we are when the dogs are sick, and (most recently) how hard it is when one of the dogs dies (which is what my mom is going through now). Basically, dogs dogs dogs. This takes up about 50-75% of our time.

The remaining conversation consists largely of updates on our health situations, chit-chat about my sister's kids, chit-chat about my dad, chit-chat about my boyfriend (she doesn't really care much about my work, my sister's work, or any of my friends) and me gazing at the ceiling while she complains about the same things she's been complaining about for 5-10 years or making not-so-veiled references about how Obama has stolen her Social Security to give to the Muslims while waiting for an opening to change the subject, which usually involves... the dogs.
posted by scody at 11:50 PM on October 18, 2010

My mother and I don't talk often, and don't have much to talk about -- but here's what I do: I call, and I say "I was just thinking about you, and wanted to see how you were doing." Typically that leads to a conversation that's very brief -- 30 seconds at most -- with a quick I'm fine you/I'm fine too exchange, perhaps a quick mention of something one of the kids has done or somesuch. Occasionally it leads to a conversation that's half an hour or so long, in which she has a lot she wants to talk about, and (because it's my mom) I listen and am interested in what she has to say -- except on days when I'm not, in which case I let her talk because she feels like it and she's my mom.

So my suggestion to you would be to go in as if it's a quick call to see how she's doing, anticipate it'll be short, but call at a time where you can stay on the line just in case she's in the mood to chat. Over time, you'll grow comfortable with the routine.

At the end of the day, though, she's your mom. She knew you before you had words. I guarantee that you could have the most awkward conversation in all the land, and she'll still love you, because you called even though you didn't have anything to say.
posted by davejay at 12:30 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, you'll be less stressed if you think that she probably just wants to hear your voice in a short chat, and not for a long conversation. What you actually say is not that important, it's more important that she hears you more often.

At least that's how my mom is.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:59 AM on October 19, 2010

Reminisce about something happy
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 5:24 AM on October 19, 2010

What is your mom interested in? What is she good at, what are her hobbies, what does she like to believe she knows a lot about? Ask her questions about that. If she likes cooking, tell her about a new recipe you might try, and ask her advice. If she is an avid crossword puzzle player, buy a book of crosswords and ask for her help on a couple. You get the idea. It will make her feel good, and hopefully get the ball rolling. And, ideally, the next time you call, she will say, "Hey remember that poached pear recipe you asked me about last week? Well, my friend Gloria said ..." and you won't be doing all the work.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:08 AM on October 19, 2010

My mom-person (actually an aunt, long story) and I usually talk at least once a week these days, but we had gone for months without needing to pick up the phone.

These days we chat about:

Her dog (did he swim in that filthy pond, again?!
Her cat (knocked over a bucket of cat food and gorged himself all day, then begged at dinnertime)
Her garden
Her pickling/canning/salsa
Her knitting (which I taught her last winter)
Her home reno project
The weather near her
The deer in her yard, does, do they look?

The gaggle of cats in my yard
Interviews I'd had - especially bad ones, she was a good cheer leader
My new job
My crazy coworkers
Religious issues (we have different beliefs, but we both read a lot and are intellectual about the whole thing)
Books we've read
My practice with hot rollers and makeup
Shoes (now that I notice them and am not 100% utilitarian and desperate about covering my feet)
My friends who've moved away, gotten married
New babies in my social circle
Cooking - we don't share recipes, but we delight on bragging about what we cooked for an event and how people reacted. We also complain mildly about the folks who only brought a loaf of white bread to a holiday party. (that story is going to go mythical, I think, with so many re-tellings)

Sometimes one of us is really busy and can't chat. But we get an I love you in, and that's nice.

Now that I'm thinking of this, maybe I'll try to steer her over and see what her thoughts are.
posted by bilabial at 6:12 AM on October 19, 2010

Well, maybe I read the question differently than everyone else, but I think your mom may just be worried about your job search. Or at least , my mom would be. We rarely talk on the phone, but she certainly wanted to check in on me a lot more when I was between jobs. I'd tell her about what jobs I saw out there and what I had applied to and what seemed promising. It was a little more like a status meeting at the office, except it was my mom and the job was looking for a job.
posted by advicepig at 6:44 AM on October 19, 2010

The nice thing about this is that if you're calling more often, your calls don't need to last as long- you can allot 20 minutes and then end the call, because you're not trying to catch up after a long break, and you're not going to have as much that is brand new to discuss. I talk to my mom every few days and try to serve a bit as a sounding board for her to vent about family and her job to someone other than my dad. Twenty minutes is about perfect to ask about:

How her book is/whether she's seen the latest episode of X
How work has been over the past few days (she's a teacher, so there are always stories)
How X thing that recently broke at the house is coming along at being repaired
How the pets are
Any updates on various family members- even mentioning whether one of us has talked to my brother and if he's sick, traveling, etc.
Weekend plans

The nice thing is it's okay for these questions to repeat themselves once a week- you don't always have to come up with new topics, but just revisit the ones discussed previously: Did you finish your book? What will you read next? Is Grandma still sick?

As a side note- with regard to your grandmother, you can still ask and then just make listening/sympathetic noises without getting overly involved. I've found my mom needs to vent a lot about my grandmother- and they get along well!- just because she is the main person my grandmother vents to.

Additionally, I think if you call for a specific question, short, quick calls make sense and can intersperse with some of the longer ones. With my mom, this is usually a baking or cooking question, and even if I could google for the answer, it makes her feel good that I call and ask for a recipe or how long I can leave the bread in the machine. I'd see if you can think of questions like these you can ask her, even if it's small and you could figure out the answer, whether it's something about one of the craft projects you have in common, or a basic car/house/household goods maintenance so then it's clear this is something you'd be doing anyway, regardless of your job search.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:41 AM on October 19, 2010

When I was talking to her this weekend she requested I call her more often.
Neither of us are interested in being close with each other

Are you sure? I do understand that a close relationship may not be in the cards for you two, but why does she want to hear from you more? Maybe that was her attempt at trying to begin building a better relationship. Just mention that because maybe you will have a better attitude about calling if you feel like she wants to be closer to you.

I about once a week. We talk about the family, what everyone's up to, and lately, cooking. I've found that now that I have started cooking more, I always have questions for her and we talk about recipes and techniques, which is great, because it takes up a good amount of time on the phone and we aren't just talking about the weather and other boring stuff. Plus, I can tell she likes feeling like she is teaching me that I am finally appreciating her cooking skills.

Do you have any similar interests as your mother? If not, can you decide to take one up? For example, ff she knits, make it a point to start learning how, then call her and ask questions.
posted by coupdefoudre at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2010

It sounds like your mom wants a better relationship with you which is great. Maybe it would be easier though, if you wrote her email (or if she's not technologically inclined, letters) in addition to calling. That would give you a chance to think about things to mention, you could send her links to interesting news stories or blog posts (or print them out and send them if you're writing letters). Then you could probably call a little less and when you call, you can talk about those things.
posted by Kimberly at 8:23 AM on October 19, 2010

My two main mom-topics are (1) common interests and (2) people we both know. She always asks about work, my relationship, my personal life in general, but I keep those answers brief. Then I move on to something like, "How's your garden?" "I talked to Cousin Joe the other day - here's what's going on in his life!" "I tried this amazing pie crust recipe from Cook's Illustrated." "How's Carol doing?" "Did you see The Daily Show the other night?"
posted by spinto at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2010

Oh. I also wanted to reassure you. I don't think your mother/daughter relationship sounds unhealthy. You are on speaking terms. There's no name calling. You don't mention feeling put down by her. It may not be the socially sanctioned painting of a perfect mother/daughter relationship, but as I grow up a little more, I realize that almost nobody gets that.

If you want some insight onto the communication patterns you have developed with your mom, check out Deborah Tannen's book called "you're going to wear that?" she's a very readable sociolinguist, specializing in adult communication. This book is all about mothers and daughters in communication.
posted by bilabial at 8:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you're cooking / eating and what she's cooking / eating.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:03 AM on October 19, 2010

I have some relatives that I share this kind of relationship with.

Nice topics I've enjoyed include the above-mentioned cooking and television, but my favorite topic is family tradition and history. I have so many questions about how some of our family traditions started, I've found that starting a conversation with "tell me about..." is a good way to kill 20 minutes to an hour at a time.

Some of the best ones have started,

"Tell me about Hanukkah when you were a kid. Did you get presents every night? Did {grandmother} grate the latkes by hand or were they mashed potatoes?"
"Tell me about how you started collecting tea towels."
"Tell me about the trip to Hawaii you took with grandma and grandpa, I've only seen photos."
"Tell me about grandma's cooking when you were a kid. Was she always such a bad cook? What was the worst thing she ever made?"

I've learned so many things about my family that I would have never thought to ask directly, too, that just came out in telling these stories. For example, I know that my mom hates the family china, that my grandfather was married and divorced before he met my grandma (!), that my great-uncle only dated redheads when he was a young man, etc.
posted by juniperesque at 11:02 AM on October 19, 2010

A very brief example:

"How was work?"
"Work was fine." (I have nothing to say about my work, ever.) "How was yours?"
*mom then proceeds to rant about her work, or relatives that annoy her, or anyone else who annoys her, for the next hour.*

In my experience, the entire phone call is mostly there so she has someone to rant at when she can't rant at her supervisor or the relatives directly. She wants someone to run her mouth off at and going "uh-huh, uh-huh" at the right intervals. I don't necessarily need to drum up topics of conversation about my life, because uh, that's not why she wants me to call her so much.

So uh... get her talking on what she cares about. Believe me, stupid people doing stupid crap (like your brother) will give a mom a good solid hour of phone entertainment right there, even if you are sick of hearing about it every week.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:50 PM on October 19, 2010

You'll have much more to talk about the more often you talk, even though that seems paradoxical. When you start to talk more often, you'll get into talking about the smaller details of your daily life that wouldn't ever come up in a once-a-year conversation. If you called her once a week, then part of the phone call would be relating new things that had happened and part would be following up on things you had mentioned the previous week.
I get the same anxiety about calling my younger sisters - I want to maintain a close relationship with them, but often am at a loss for conversation. It's only when I get into a regular calling pattern that things come more easily.
Also, when you talk very rarely, there is a lot of pressure on that one phone call. A more regular phone call would mean that you might be comfortable with just being silent for a little bit.
posted by whalebreath at 7:17 PM on October 19, 2010

One more suggestion -- not really about subject matter but more about strategy. Ask (or, if that's too awkward, see if you can deduce) when the best time to talk might be. My mom tends to be a morning person, so she is typically a lot chattier (and, even better, more cheerful) early in the day through mid-afternoon, then starts to get progressively more reticent and/or negative in the late afternoon and into the evening. Your mom might also have a conversational sweet spot, time-wise, which can sometimes make it easier for the talk to flow more naturally.
posted by scody at 5:27 PM on October 20, 2010

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