How can I occupy my mother-in-law?
June 20, 2006 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a way to entertain my homebound future mother-in-law!

My fiance's mother had some nerve damage following a surgical procedure, and although she can walk it's tough for her to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time, and it's impossible for her to drive. She has no hobbies, no family in the area, few friends that are able to come over, and little to do other than watch TV and plan my wedding. I have a hunch that she'll feel a little aimless when the wedding is over.

Since counseling or community involvement aren't things she'd ever consider, I think she needs a hobby. My fiance has tried to get her involved in a hobby before without much luck. I'm hoping that if I take her to a class with me, she'll start out doing it just to bond with me, but will eventually get hooked and start doing it herself. But what can I do? Both my parents and my grandparents are more physically active than she is, so I'm having a tough time coming up with age-appropriate activities that are fun but don't involve much physical activity. Things like walking, gardening, and cooking are out because of her disability, and I don't want to introduce her to knitting or quilting since her hands may become arthritic eventually.

Does anyone have any good ideas for my mother-in-law?
posted by christinetheslp to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Watercolour painting.
Learn a foreign language.
Put a birdfeeder outside her window, buy an ornithology book.
posted by afx237vi at 4:05 PM on June 20, 2006

Not really something to do together, but what about the Internet? God knows it's transformed others' lives....

(oh, wait, you mentioned potential arthritis. Hm. I'd not let that get in the way of trying to find something for her, personally, but that's MHO only. It may or may not happen, right?)
posted by tristeza at 4:08 PM on June 20, 2006

One of my grandmothers used to paint little ceramic statues for all the grandkids before she passed away and spent countless hours working on perfecting them. She also would do some knitting and stitchwork, too.

My other grandmother started learning how to use a computer about 5 years ago and is now addicted! She uses Instant Message to stay in touch with the entire family, has helped put together a family geneology website with my uncle, and has learned about the world of digital photos to create albums to share with friends and family.

Both grandmothers had productive hobbies that keep/kept them busy and engaged with a task. In these cases, it also helped them bond with the family, too.
posted by galimatias at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2006

I think it's also worth noting that some people are not "hobby people" and are perfectly happy to just watch TV and do regular routine things all day. My gran, for instance, is 86 years old and spends most of the day just pottering around, cooking, reading magazines and watching TV.

I think as long as your M-I-L doesn't feel neglected or isolated in any way, then she may just be happy to be spending time with her family and doing nothing in particular.
posted by afx237vi at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2006

Old ladies knit. Some of them must be arthritic. Introduce her to knitting. Buy her patterns (or whatever they are called) for things you'd like for Christmas.

Or scrapbooking. She could make albums for you and your unborn children.
posted by clh at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2006

Maybe put her to work recording the family history, or telling stories about her life -- childhood, how she met her husband, what school was like, etc. If she can't write, get her a digital voice recorder that's easy to use. Or have her tell you the stories, so you can write them down.
posted by shifafa at 4:46 PM on June 20, 2006

I have heard/read in multiple places that knitting can be good for people who are developing arthritis. I'm sorry, I don't have any sources.

Anyway, I third the idea for recording the family history. It's not only incredibly important, it can also lead you down some very interesting paths.
posted by bristolcat at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2006

Scrapbooking. Most scrapbooking stores, and there are a lot of them these days, offer classes that are fun and don't require a lot of manual dexterity. She can learn how to organize family photos into nice displays and albums, maybe use some pens and rubber stamps and other art supplies to create invitations, cards, calendars, things like that. Everyone has boxes of family photos sitting around; this would give her a way to use them, enjoy them and help future generations enjoy them too. I am not a scrapbooker but I know that it is a big business these days and there are many crafty magazines you could give her to pique her initial interest. Good luck!
posted by Kangaroo at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2006

When you rule out large motor movements due to this dissability, and you rule out fine motor movements due to potential arthritis, there really isn't anything left. But I think the latter might be premature -- my 99-year-old grandmother crocheted and knitted up until about a month before she passed. I know its a stereotypical hobby, but it really can be interesting (hey, I learned..).
posted by Alterscape at 8:11 PM on June 20, 2006

Keeping in mind that she may not be a hobby type person, here are some things that the older women I work with tend to like:

- if outdoor gardening is a stretch, consider window gardening or indoor or deck container gardening. Can look lovely and doesn't require as much mobility but is good for someone who can pay regular attention to it
- pets. if she's not a pet person then don't push this, but just something like fish or birds where they're not going to be rambunctious or in her lap might be good. Keep in mind that if she decides she does not like pets (obviously discuss this) someone needs to take responsibility for them, so only do this if you are already in a household that would accept a pet. I know many single older people and taking care of pets is a real lifeline for them.
- does the library do book delivery or have a book group or other senior stuff? I know this may be perilously close to community activity, but even interesting stuff to read is a changing landscape if you can't get out much
- swimming - I know this seems like a lot of work and bad for people with nerve damage, but if she's not still in surgical dressings, there may be some adaptive aquatics classes that would allow her to get some exercise, be freed from the restraints of gravity and keep her bones in shape. I'm surprised how many disabled people go to the pool where I swim.
- family stuff - do you have scrapbooks or other organizational stuff that she could get involved with or help you sort? having people in the older generations annotate older photos is really useful for everyone and often a good time. If she's at all tech savvy you could even get a scanning project started.

Keep in mind that many activities that may seem out of reach may be entirely possible with some adaptive technology. A computer with a BIG trackball instead of a mouse, and large fonts on the screen, suddenly becomes way more easy for an older person to use. Same for gardening, a water wand that hooks to the sink, or some trowels and whatnot with big handles might be the difference between an enjoyable pastime and somethigng that's not much fun. You might want to read up on accessibility [one book suggestion: Access by Design] or contact your local adaptive technology center to see if there are ways you can make your house and spaces in and around it more easy for her to use while she's there.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 PM on June 20, 2006

This may not be a matter of having nothing else to do. My future mother-in-law hikes, gardens, cooks, sews, is active in her church, takes singing lessons, belongs to two choirs, and stays involved in the lives of her nine siblings -- and she still has nothing better to do than plan my wedding.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:43 PM on June 20, 2006

I had a similar situation with my future mother-in-law, although her biggest factor was limited English. This year when she came to visit, we taught her how to use a computer. Within a few months she was reading news and emailing her friends back home regularly. It has been a very positive experience for her.
posted by Yorrick at 4:29 AM on June 21, 2006

If you are in a city or suburb get her down to the local senior center. Some places have a shuttle service. If she is semi mobile I would investigate one of those senior scooters. For about $1000. bucks, or a lot less if used, she would be able to scoot around the house, garden, and neighborhood. Smaller ones break down to fit in the trunk of a car so that you can take her out once in a while.
posted by Gungho at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2006

You didn't say how old she is, but in my experience people who undergo drastic incapacitations like this can be very depressed by the radical change in their lifestyle, especially because of having to depend so much on others. Despite putting your best foot forward, try not to take it personally if nothing sticks, if she is reluctant to try the things you initiate or doesn't stick with them. People in her situation are very keen to pick up on your attempts to cheer them up or find them new hobbies, and their reactions can range from compliance out of politeness to downright resentment. Some people really don't want a "pity hobby".

I recommend that whatever you decide to do, you present it to her as something you are interested in doing, and plan on doing it whether or not she is interested. Perhaps that may even be the case. That way, if she is reluctant about it, she will see your interest in it develop and grow more interested herself.

I also recommend that instead of focusing on merely fun stuff, look for household stuff that could she could do. It will be harder for her to say no to, and she'll probably appreciate the chance to help out and feel useful. Perhaps things like polishing silver, putting photographs in an album, etc etc. that can be done from a seated position. You can work on stuff like this together, too.
posted by hermitosis at 9:32 AM on June 21, 2006

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