Time’s passage invariably brings changes to family structure and close bonds.
People move away, kids become consumed by the priorities of adulthood, we find ourselves with either more time on our hands or less and in need of redefining our values regarding parenting, partnership and friendship.
I recently asked Next Avenue readers to join me in the site’s WRINKLEPEDIA section to talk about their approaches to showing love and concern for family members and others they care about.
I was expecting to get an earful about the ways romantic passion manifests differently in later life, how it gets harder to sustain connections with adult children due to distance and their shifting preoccupations and how old friendships are at risk of slipping away.
The online discussion with Next Avenue visitors did reveal shifts in their close relationships. But it also showed that they stick with tried-and-true strategies when it comes to expressing affection and interest in loved ones. In reading their comments I learned that age-old approaches are the new way forward.
Here are our wise readers’ seven time-tested approaches for keeping cherished connections solid and love flowing:
(MORE: How to Be a Role Model for Your Adult Children)
1. Take a hands-on approach. Lesli Dodge-Harrer touts the power of touch, first and foremost: “I believe we undervalue the simple act of touch. Older people and single people (of all ages) crave physical contact and it nourishes our soul.”
Several other readers fleshed out the notion by underscoring the value of hugs and intimacy.
2. Be kind, be very responsive. Alaide Leal thinks we should engage in “unspoken acts of kindness before asked, like great surprises.”
Gaye Saucier Farris adds: “After living away from my sons for 20 years, I now live in the same town as one and am just a few hours from the other. I love being able to be of help, whether it is taking care of a sick granddaughter or babysitting our “granddog” when my son is out of town.”
“I respond whenever they call or send an email,” Bj Eldredge adds.
3. Lend an ear. Karen Irving thinks the most important thing is listening to those you care about: “Really listening, not just nodding at the appropriate moments — and asking questions that show you want to understand what they’re talking about.”
4. Offer your time freely — and get personal. Susan Weiman says, “Share words, stories, visuals — little things to connect.”
“I give of my time,” Stephanie Stephens adds. “It’s one of the more precious things we have — or don’t seem to have enough of.”
“Do with them what they love to do,” Marcia Riis Tyrol says. “Being a bit old-fashioned, I cook their favorite foods.”
5. Be supportive. “I believe in actions rather than words,” Nelly Sorensen says. “Being there for them, as a reliable and faithful friend or relative is definitely one way. Accepting them without being judgmental or critical is another way.”
Deborah LeDrew highlights the value of spontaneity. “When I suddenly think of them for no reason, I call or text,” she says.
“I’m a fan of the heartfelt compliment,” Karen Irving says. “I don’t offer them lightly so when I tell my kids I’m proud of something they’ve done, they know I really mean it."
Marcia Riis Tyrol tells her loved ones that “they matter and that I am here for them and believe in them.” To her that is the essence of “connection.”
Bj Eldredge elaborates: “I sometimes send things or news in their areas of interest. I remember special times and events. I make a fuss!"
6. Let them know what’s in your heart — frequently. Truemuseone says it best: “I always make sure I tell them I love them before they head out in case we part. I learned that from experience.”
(MORE: Letter to My Sons: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love)
I’d like to add one more bit of wisdom from another frequent site visitor, my mother. She didn’t participate in the online conversation, but wanted to share her thoughts regarding Next Avenue visitor Rachel Heisinger’s comment that she “can’t quite get past the barrier of not feeling really comfortable” with the two adult children she had during her troubled first marriage and who live only an hour away. “Why is that?” Rachel poignantly asks the audience.
My mom and I chatted about how misunderstandings, differing viewpoints and mistreatment (real or imagined) often turn into protracted or permanent rifts between parents and grown kids, causing those involved great pain.
7. Don’t Give Up on Love. “They need to keep trying to resolve the problems and beat back the silence in any way they can,” my mom advises. “I’ve learned that when a door closes, you have to crawl through the window.”
I’m with her. While it won’t always be possible to sustain love and friendship or heal rifts, I think we should do our very best to honor close connections and the ineffable confluence of grace, fate and will that brought us together in the first place.