How to Help Your Parents Make Friends
Expand mom and dad's social lives with these tips
When my friends complain that their parents are lonely or bored and keep asking to spend time with them, I am always amazed. I have the opposite problem. It's hard to get on my 85-year-old mom's calendar!
My mother lives alone in a large, 55+ condo complex. She doesn't have much money. Yet her days are always jam-packed with friends and fun activities.
If you’d like to get more phone calls from Mom, Dad (or both) telling you about all the fun stuff they’re doing instead of complaining they have nothing to do and want to hang out with you, consider offering your parents these five tips:
1. Go it alone. You know how, when you were a kid, you wouldn’t go anywhere without your friends? Well, in order to find friends now, sometimes you’ll have to do the scary thing . . . and show up alone.
Here’s what I mean. John and his wife had recently retired to Florida. He had always enjoyed bicycling, but she didn’t ride. One day, he showed up alone at our over-50 bicycle club. He didn’t know a soul, and was quite shy. Eventually he got to know us and now he (and his wife) get together socially with members of the group.
Are you waiting to be invited to do something new? It might not happen. So why not find something fun to do and organize it yourself?
You might have to show up all by yourself, but you won’t be alone for very long!
2. Keep up with technology. Are you getting the most out of your computer and phone? Most of us aren’t. But there are so many ways to improve your social life using technology, such as:
- Joining Facebook groups that help you meet new people with similar interests
- Searching online for Meetups and other events of interest
- Finding information for friends who aren’t as tech-savvy
- Staying in touch with friends (and family) through cell phone texting and by sharing photos and videos
- Using cell phone apps, such as WhatsApp, to send a message to a group
3. Become more interesting. When we meet with friends, it’s fun to talk about the latest happenings with the Royal Family according to People magazine or when the newest Aldi supermarket is opening in town or an upcoming charity event. By keeping up with what’s new and interesting locally, nationally and even internationally, you’ll become a more interesting person — someone people will want to spend time with.
As you read or view something interesting, jot it down. Take a look at your notes as a reminder before you meet up with friends or family. When there is a lull in conversation, you can bring these things up. People will start seeking you out because it's fun to talk to you.
4. Take on the role of the “ringleader.” Are you waiting to be invited to do something new? It might not happen. So why not find something fun to do with others and organize it yourself? Here are some examples:
- My husband’s friend invited some friends to a “Taco Tuesday” night at a local bar.
- One of my friends organized a “testosterone-free pajama party” for a bunch of our 50+ girlfriends to hang out at her house in pajamas and watch romantic comedies with popcorn and snacks.
- A member of my 50-Year-Old-Mermaid Facebook community posted about a local “Mermaid Cruise” to see if we could get a group to go together.
Looking for more ideas? Here’s how to find some fun activities:
- Read your newspaper or watch the local news for interesting places to go and activities to do
- Search online for things to do where you live
- Check your local library for fun, free events
- Search Facebook or social media for event listings
- Listen and ask! If you hear someone in the grocery store line talking about something that sounds fun, get more information
Even if you don’t like organizing activities, sometimes you just have to be the one to do it. This also gives you the chance to invite people you’d like to know better.
5. Cultivate charm. Once you start “putting yourself out there,” how do you make sure the people you meet will want to embrace you as a friend, instead of just another acquaintance? Being charming is a really good start.
As J.M. Barrie (the author of Peter Pan) said, “If you have it (charm), you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have.”
We all know men and women we consider “charming.” They are the people we love to spend time with. Charming people show a sincere interest in others, which is at the heart of what it means to be charming.
If you’re naturally charming, good for you! If you need to brush up on your charm skills, here are some foolproof tips:
- Start with a genuine compliment and question: “I love your shirt. Where did you get it?”
- Ask additional questions about the other person, and listen with interest. You can always ask standard questions about hobbies and family or you can elevate your conversation by using interesting conversation starters. I’ve used this list.
- Introduce your new buddy to others. Once you meet someone, introduce him or her to your own connections. In addition to helping that person make friends, this will also help you remember names, which is another important way to be charming.
What if Your Parents Aren’t Willing to Take the Initiative?
If you share these ideas with your parents and they still won't reach out to make friends or try new activities, you might need to get more involved in the process.
"Adult children might need to do the legwork for parents who aren’t willing to take the initiative,” says Iowa-based Theresa Thorland, a Certified Activity Consultant and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, as well as an instructor for the National Certification for Activity Directors. “Finding a local senior center is a great first step.”
Did you know that there are nearly 10,000 senior centers that serve more than one million older adults daily throughout the U.S.? You can find ones in your area by searching Google or by reaching out to your Area Agency on Aging.
“You can’t believe how many people still tell me they didn’t know about senior centers,” says Lisa Reynolds, director for the Erie West Senior Center in Erie, Pa. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and offers free activities such as crafts, exercise classes, speakers and bingo for people 60 and over. A hot lunch is served for a $2 contribution.
"You can't believe how many people still tell me they didn't know about senior centers."
The staff at senior centers can also help foster friendships. “If I know someone is new to the center, I’ll introduce him to a few people I think he’ll get along with or have her sit at a table with people she might like,” says Reynolds.
And the best part? You might not even have to drive Mom or Dad to the senior center. Many community programs offer free or reduced transportation. In the Erie, Pa. area, for example, if you are 65 and over, you might qualify for free bus service to doctors appointments and the nearest senior center.
Looking for additional places to help your parents get more social? Local religious organizations, churches and temples often offer activity programs. Many are open to the entire older adult community regardless of religious affiliation.
You’ve Tried Everything, But Your Parents Aren’t Into It: Now What?
Even all these tips may not do the trick.
“Not everybody is a social butterfly,” says Debra Dunaway, activities director at the Barrington Terrace assisted living facility in Boynton Beach, Fla. “You can do everything to help them get more social, but sometimes they won’t be willing.”
At that point, you might just need to set some limits. Explain to Mom or Dad that you can’t be their Friday night date, but you can spend time with them on a schedule that’s a win-win for everyone.