Wait, your mother-in-law lives with you? Yup! For over two years now! The reactions range from “That’s so sweet!” to “Ugh. What’s that like?” It has been wonderful, but with COVID-19 and having to live in quarantine, it has definitely presented some new challenges. (Obviously, the older people in your life may not live with you, but these principles still apply.)
Check in on quarantined older or elderly family members, friends and neighbors.
Some of them may be in quarantine alone. I try to use apps like FaceTime or Google Meet to actually see them face to face instead of just making a phone call or texting. You might be able to see more worry or anxiety on their face than they would actually confide in you. (You might have to talk them through how to use something like FaceTime. It took, like 10 seconds with my mom and she was delighted to have a face-to-face connection!)
Ask them lots of questions, then really listen to their answers. Are they revealing how they really feel “between the lines?” Ask good follow-up questions about their physical and emotional health. Offer (read: insist) to run errands for them to minimize their exposure risk.
Normally, I advise married couples that each of them should generally deal with their own parents—especially if they have to deliver bad news, like, “we can’t make it to your place for Thanksgiving,” and to never make their spouse the “bad guy” to his or her in-laws. That’s still good advice, but definitely check in on your in-laws! This might be a key time to develop a deeper connection with them—that’s always worth it!
Speaking of in-laws, I’ve noticed something intriguing lately…
While there are definitely some things my wife can talk to her mom about that I can’t, there are other times when being the son-in-law gives me a special voice into her life. This “voice” has been used a lot lately when it comes to the quarantine.
Case In Point: My mother-in-law recently had a doctor’s appointment. It was just a follow-up and she had a few questions for her doctor. My wife and I talked and agreed that a doctor’s office was the last place she needed to be in our current COVID-19 situation. The night before the appointment, my wife told her mom that she should definitely NOT go to this appointment for her own safety. It was more risk than reward—for an elderly person especially and even for all of us quarantined together. Her mom heard her out and politely said that she really felt that she needed to keep the appointment. (Mothers and daughters—it’s a “thing” at any age.) So, the next morning I played dumb with my mother-in-law, or MIL.
Me: So, what do you have planned for the day?
MIL: I’ve just got a doctor’s appointment to go to.
Me: I’m not trying to get into your business, but is everything okay?
MIL: Oh, yeah. It’s just a follow-up. I have a few questions for my doctor.
Me: Just some questions? Go snag your phone. I wanna show you something cool!
Then I proceeded to walk her through the MyChart app. I helped her navigate the app and shoot her questions over to her doctor. She then, without any prompting, called the office and canceled her appointment. (For which they thanked her!) She got her answers in a matter of hours.
She had no idea that she could do that. At her age, she just doesn’t think, “Oh, there’s an app for that.” She was thrilled that she learned something new about her phone and medical care in the 21st century. She just needed a little help.
A Couple Of Takeaways From The Story:
- Just like the rest of us, older people want to keep their dignity, independence, and don’t like to be told what to do or be treated like children.
- They get cabin fever, too and sometimes just want to get out, even though right now, it’s a really bad idea. Her socializing—like volunteering, crochet groups, yoga classes, etc., have all been canceled. Empathize with them. Help brainstorm safe alternatives. Get creative. Does she know that she can still “meet” with the whole crochet group on Google Meet or ZOOM?
- Don’t assume they know the facts about COVID-19 and the recommendations that have been issued. Don’t assume they can think of alternatives to going out and getting groceries.
It’s A Family Effort!
Our whole family is on the same page with Grandma.
- We all kinda “low-key” check on how she is feeling physically and emotionally. We watch for physical symptoms and mental health symptoms, like signs of depression and loneliness.
- Nobody wants to feel like a burden. Everyone wants their life to feel meaningful and significant. We include her in what we are doing and we also let her help with things we could certainly do for ourselves. Then we shower her with appreciation.
- There is a balance between letting her lead her independent life and including her in our crazy family circus. We try to be sensitive about giving her space of her own and including her in our activities. My wife and I have five children—we know she needs alone time.
Three months after she moved in with us, we sat down, and I asked her, “Okay, be honest. How are we driving you crazy?” Since then, we’ve kept the lines of communication open. NOW is an especially important time to be in constant communication with the quarantined elderly in your life!