When Momm's Not Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy
February 2, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Help us help my mom make friends, find a social outlet and generally find some joy around Dallas, TX.

Ok...the long story:
My 73 year old mom retired and moved from the east coast to Phoenix about two and a half years ago to live in the warm climate and be close to my brother and his family. About a year or so after she moved to Phoenix, my brother got a wonderful job offer in Dallas and, after discussing it with everyone (including mom), the decision was made to take it and move to Dallas. Mom was not thrilled with the concept of picking up and moving so soon again, but facing the prospect of being alone in Phoenix was not something she, my brother, or any of us wanted for her, so she made the move with them.
She now has basically the same routine as she did in Phoenix, except that she's a 15 minute drive away instead of a five minute walk away, and is growing dissatisfied with things there.

A couple things to note:
-She says she misses her friends back on the east coast (but not the weather)

-She says she misses Phoenix, but doesn't want to be alone there.

-She is not the most social butterfly, but does well once she feels comfortable in social situations.

-She is a widow, has not dated despite gentle efforts to introduce her to that world and remains somewhat indifferent to the prospect.

-She is stuck in a routine of mostly sitting at home all day and eventually driving over to my brother's house, sometimes making & bringing over a dinner.

-She is a healthy retiree who exercises her ability to go out and hit the local outlet stores or drive around...and has done so before.

-My brother is growing frustrated with how inactive she is and feels like he has done everything he can to engage her (he and his wife have four kids from toddler to teen). I feel for him because he is exasperated.

Despite everyone's efforts to go with her to a local seniors walking club (which was a bust when nobody showed up), get her involved with the local senior center or invite her to local neighborhood gatherings, she is just not happy and remains almost apathetic about taking any responsibility for her own happiness.
When she and I discuss it all, I get the sense that she's unsure of what she really wants and is romanticizing her past social circle back east (sort of the "grass is always greener" situation). I fear her moving back east will be a let down if she finds that her friends, some of whom have significant others now, have moved on and may not have the time they used to for socializing. She also would be dealing with the winter months which she said she absolutely hated.

I'm basically desperate for some ideas of how we can find her some kind of social outlet for where she is now...at least for the next few months until her lease is up and it's decision time for her. She likes to cook, loves zoo's/aquariums, and enjoys cooking (even though we bought her a cooking class that she never went to). We love her so very much, we have talked to her about how she feels and tried everything we know how to do but it's becoming clear that we need a fresh perspective on how help her feel more engaged in her life, because she does not appear to be taking an active role to try and make the best of the current situation.

Anyone have a parent in a similar situation?
Any thoughts or advice, hive-mind?
posted by poolsidemuse to Human Relations (16 answers total)
She needs to volunteer somewhere - go to training classes, commit to donating her time, etc. The satisfaction of volunteering will be emotionally and spiritually uplifting for her.

When I worked for a zoo, we had many, many volunteers who were just like your mom - perhaps they maybe just lost a spouse, or recently retired. They loved the interaction with visitors (especially with the kids), time commitments were fairly short (a few hours a week), and they enjoyed the setting (surrounded by animals and pretty gardens). The volunteer department was set up to give them training and guidance and help them set up their schedule.

I'm sure there are other places she could volunteer - at a nursing home, animal shelter, library, etc.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:39 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does she use a computer? If not, maybe she would be interested in learning how. And if she's comfortable with computers, maybe she could volunteer at the library or senior center showing other seniors how to use them. My mom does this, and it really boosts her self-esteem.

I think as some people get older, and their kids move out and spouses die, they lose their sense of usefulness and become kind of apathetic and depressed about life. Happened to my mom, until she figured out that she knew way more about computers than her friends, and they looked to her for help. It made her feel useful again. Not saying this your mom's situation, but having someone counting on you goes a long way toward beating that blah feeling about life.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:45 AM on February 2, 2012

Volunteering is wonderful for feeling useful -- my 86 year old mother is constantly volunteering for something.

Near me there's a community college that has a "Lifelong Learning" continuing ed track specifically for older people. There are all sorts of interesting classes that are during the day -- painting, languages, music appreciation, etc. Maybe something like that is available and would interest her. She would also meet other people her age.
posted by la petite marie at 11:56 AM on February 2, 2012

My mom is about the same age and she started attending the Unitarian church regularly last year. It's been a really good network for her. My parents in law are her age and they live in an active retirement community. They've made loads of friends there though the communities wide array of clubs.
posted by bananafish at 11:56 AM on February 2, 2012

Has she been evaluated for depression? If she's rejecting every idea thus far, I don't think the problem lies in the activity.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:57 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does she have a pet? Caring for a dog will take up a lot of her empty hours, and she'll have the companionship. My mother did almost the same thing last year, packed up and left Nevada to move three blocks from me. She particularly enjoys neighborhood stuff, things she can do close to home. It seems to me that elderly folks depend on and enjoy more a sense of community, so I would encourage that. Mom's church is close, and one of her favorite things is seeing people she knows in the grocery store. She only knows about a dozen people total, but we're all in a small walkable neighborhood and she really feels a sense of belonging when she sees familiar faces. Volunteering is always good, and if she could find a volunteer opportunity that included one or more of her grandchildren, I bet she would enjoy it even more.
posted by raisingsand at 11:59 AM on February 2, 2012

How about this
posted by bananafish at 11:59 AM on February 2, 2012

I'm in a different demographic than your mom, but Meetup.com has saved my SAHM sanity. She might need assistance getting it set up and finding a group she is interested in, but once she gets going I bet she has no trouble. If there aren't any groups that fit the bill, she can start one! The good thing is that she is in a major metro- she definitely has peers out there feeling the same way she is.

I could be more specific if she were still in Phoenix, but how about finding activities at a Senior Community Center, or volunteering at the closest hospital, or taking an interesting class through parks & rec or a community college?
posted by LyndsayMW at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2012

I missed part of your question. This may sound totally snarky, but I mean it in a genuine way: sounds like she might like being on an HOA board or neighborhood watch type committee. Maybe even town council or some kind of other city leadership committee (my neighborhood has one to find and develop a location for a new dog park- its not earth shattering, but the people on the committee are passionate, to say the least). That could get her connected with her immediate neighborhood and give her a sense of purpose for which she doesn't necessarily need to leave the house (much).
posted by LyndsayMW at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2012

Wow that was fast! Thank all so much. I will certainly look into the volunteering option for her. If we can get her to follow through on it, I agree it would be incredibly rewarding and boost her self-esteem for sure.

@Wordwoman, she hasn’t been evaluated, no. I hope she doesn’t balk at the suggestion of maybe just getting seen for one when I bring it up. She can be a little defensive about things like that, but I will absolutely make that a topic we discuss as it should be looked into. Thank you.

@raisingsand, we discussed getting her a small dog, but we had one as kids and she makes it clear every time we bring it up that she “does not want that responsibility again”. I wish she could give in to that because she was very loving to our old pooch. I will look into the other options including the Red Hat Society bananafish suggested (totally forgot about that group, thank you!!).

@LyndsayMW, I check meetup.com from time to time and had found a local walking group that I intend to discuss with her tonight. Also, your second reply was not snarky in the least! She worked politically for her job before she retired and was happy to be done, so I am fairly certain, given our conversations with her, she would resist working with a town council or HOA..but thank you for that suggestion.

Honestly, I love her to the moon and back but it’s like herding a cat trying to cajole her into anything active that is not eating dinner, drinking wine or walking around a zoo/aquarium (which can be limited time wise due to toddler nap schedules).

You guys are so wonderful. Keep 'em coming!
posted by poolsidemuse at 12:26 PM on February 2, 2012

Are there book clubs offered at her local library? I bet the ones held during the day on weekdays would have other people in her age group.

Does she like games? Mah Jongg is a wonderful game for all ages and can be played just about anywhere. She could get involved in a group and meet some people that way. Same goes with Bridge.

Nthing volunteering.
posted by Leezie at 12:51 PM on February 2, 2012

Also, is it possible for her to move to a 55+ community that offers independent living. My friend's parents did this (they are in the 70s) and she seriously doesn't see them anymore, they're so busy with their new found social life. I'm sure there are plenty of these kinds of places in the DFW metroplex.
posted by Leezie at 12:56 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

What's her living situation? Does she live in a single-family home or an apartment? Is there a possibility of moving her to a community designed for elders? Would she be interested in a part-time job, just to get her out and socializing with people?

Does she like cards? Playing bridge is huge with her age group, and lots of younger people do it, too. I have an aunt that is your mom's age and she plays a few times a week, and socializes outside of bridge nights with friends she's met playing bridge.

Did she have a job outside the home when she was younger, or was she a full-time homemaker? Is there any particular skill she has that might make her feel useful?

Here are some good volunteer activities:

Tutoring local school children
ESL Programs
Volunteering with the elderly or visually impaired
Animal shelter

really, the list could go on and on. I think the key is to find something that makes her feel needed.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:05 PM on February 2, 2012

Why don't you guys buy her a ticket home so she can go and visit her old friends once or twice a year?
posted by fshgrl at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2012

Perhaps instead of trying to find things to do with her, as if she just needs to be PUT somewhere (which I know is not your intent but might be how she feels), you should find somewhere they really NEED her. Elementary schools rely a lot on senior citizen volunteers now that stay-at-home-moms are rarer, for example. The trick might be to find a good volunteer opportunity where she'd be really NEEDED, and then (depending on her personality) either present it a bit off-handedly ("oh, I heard they really need someone over at Blah, I don't know what they're going to do ...") or sell it to her hard ("Mom, I was talking to Joe today, and they're desperate for someone to do X at Blah, and I told him I knew you'd be perfect ...").

I think one of the hardest things for older people is not feeling like they're needed, and I think when they're lifted out of a comfortable social circle this is five times as hard, because you don't have much to DO and for most people meaning in life doesn't come JUST from family but also from some combination of friends, work, service, etc. I think she needs to be needed by someone, someone other than her family.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:07 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check and see if a local hospital has an affiliated fitness center. I go to one here in Fayetteville that has a ton of seniors that do water aerobics or other fitness activities geared for them, and they socialize!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:38 PM on February 2, 2012

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