Q My mother is 90 years old. She lives 30 minutes away but hasn’t seen her grandchildren for weeks. She asks every day when she’ll get to see them. I’m worried about her as she seems to be depressed and discouraged. I’ve tried to keep our children safe at home. I don’t want to increase my kids’ risk of getting COVID-19 or worry my mother will get sick from visiting with the children.
A Depression has particularly affected older people who are some of the most vulnerable to the Covid-19. Why? Many older folks (like your mother) are missing the close relationship they had with their families, especially with grandchildren, before the pandemic.
It is very difficult to weigh the risks of COVID-19 against the mental health of your mother. One of the best moms I know decided to solve this dilemma by fixing a room for her parents and moving them in to blend as extended family. This took more risks than she wanted to take, but it reduced the mother’s worry about her own mom and increased the happiness in the family.
Not everyone can move grandparents into their home, though, so what are the other options? Some mothers are scheduling visits in a park where the kids can run and play while grandparents watch. Of course, you want to find a shady spot in a cooler time in the day. Think of all the comforts you can provide (for example: water, snacks, sunscreen, hats). Another idea is to pick up your mother and take her and one or more of the kids for a ride or to get ice cream.
Let me add a few suggestions from which you can pick and choose those you think will work for you.
- Send pictures of your kids to your mother (or parents) every day.
- Have the children draw pictures and write notes to their grandparents. You can suggest a theme and send those you think will make your mother feel better. Themes could include: what I am thankful for today, my hobbies, what I want to learn (another language, an instrument, tap dancing, etc.) and why I like and miss you.
- Be positive about the future when talking with your mother. If your mother says something negative on the phone, rephrase it to a positive statement. An example: “I’ll never get to see my grandchildren before I die.” Choose an alternative like, “I haven’t been able to see my grandchildren, but my daughter is coming up with a way for me to see them soon.” Ask mom (grandmother) to make a list of things she must do to stay healthy until you can find a way for her to see the grandkids.
- Has your mother stopped responding to your e-mails? Send short one topic emails that require a yes, or no, or a short answer. Long e-mails may be too much for her to deal with when she is depressed.
- Ask other family members and friends to send little notes in the mail to your mother.
- Use technology such as Skype, Facetime, Zoom, and Messenger Kids to have virtual visits regularly.
- Assess your mother every day as to her level of depression or despair. Consider whether she might benefit from seeing a therapist. (Many therapists are seeing clients remotely during quarantine.)
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.