Growing older isn't what it used to be. Technology and medicine have come a long way in helping women live longer, healthier lives. Today the average woman's life span is 84, and climbing every decade. If your mother is actively enjoying her later years, this conversation will serve as a way to celebrate her vitality and draw out her wisdom. If your mother is struggling with the aging process or is in poor health, this topic will help you give her information and encouragement that will help renew her spirit. And, if your mother is still quite young, use this material to talk with her about issues that have affected your grandmother. Either way, this is your chance to use the skills you've learned so far to have an open and honest talk about aging, your mother's wishes for her later years and the effect that both of these things will have on you.
How do you feel about getting older?
Take a few minutes to see what your beliefs are about aging with regard to your mother and yourself. Respond to the following statements in your journal, and simply notice what comes up. By checking in with yourself, you'll be better prepared to talk with your mother.
- What I most fear about getting older is ...
- What I think my mother most fears about getting older is ...
- What I'm most excited about with getting older is ...
- What I think excites my mother most about being older is ...
- What I have learned from my mother about aging is ...
- When my mother is no longer able to care for herself, I will ...
- When I am an old woman I will ...
Coping with change
Accepting the changes in others (and ourselves) that come with aging is one of the biggest challenges people face in growing older. Myths abound about aging gracefully, but everyone I've ever talked to says getting older is messy. Routines become important, but they're often disrupted, causing stress. You say good-bye to people, activities and things you used to be able to do with ease. It's not always easy, and when it isn't, your mother may throw a few curveballs your way.
If you find your mother a little more distant, irritable or needy, your tendency may be to start telling her what to do or talking to her like a child. Be careful; you do so at the risk of shutting down communication. If you want results with your mother, remember that even in her neediness or resistance, she is still an adult who wants to be treated with respect.
Questions for your mom
Before you get started on the following set of questions, you may first want to review the personal questions about how you felt about your own self-image, since the two topics are so closely connected. Then when you're ready, sit down with your mom and ask her these questions about aging. These are probably the most difficult questions you've asked so far, but the results are going to be well worth it. Besides getting closer to your mother, understanding how she feels about it will dramatically affect the way you experience aging. Be sure to keep track of any progress that you have made in a private journal.
- How did your mother age? Physically? Emotionally? Mentally?
- How did you feel about your mother getting older?
- Who do you admire who is older than you are? Why?
- What kind of old woman do you want to be?
- What's the best bit of wisdom you've recently heard from someone older than you?
- What regrets do you have, if any?
- What, to you, are the positive aspects of aging?
- If you were to go back to school, what would you study?
- What activities, trips or courses would you like to do that you're not doing now?
- If you could go back and relive one moment, one month or one year of your life, what would it be and why?
- If you could change one thing about getting older, what would it be?
- What would be your perfect living arrangement, as you grow older? To live independently? In an assisted living community? With me?
- How would you like to celebrate your birthday this year? At 50? 60? 70? 80? 90?
- What is the one phrase that best sums up your experience of life at this age?
- When people remember you, what three things would you want them to remember?