055 How to make good conversations with your parents?

I was delighted to know that my previous blogpost did some good. My friends said it was a timely reminder for them and their families.

A friend WB said he only started to fear when his mom fell sick. Another friend JR shared my blogpost with her children who are studying overseas.

Spending more time with aging parents is a topic that is close to the hearts of many people.

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Having trouble spending time with your parents?

Already, making time is difficult enough. To put the time to good use is even harder.

A friend CT lamented, “I’d like to spend more time with my mom, but she is a nag. 😂”

“I hope that your daughter did not say the same about you.” I rebuked her in jest.

“My daughter has already said so.” We both laughed.

I consider CT lucky. I have heard of much worse.

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At one end of the spectrum, there are elderly parents and their adult children who live as if they are leading separate and unrelated lives under one roof. And at the other end, there are parents and children who often trade barbs and blows at each other in the heat of argument. 

I was just told a sad story of an old lady who leads a nomadic life of moving from house to house every month.  Because her four children decided that it is only fair that the burden (their mother!!) be equally shared among them. Her neighbour rolled her eyes, “Her children did not even allow her to stay a single day longer!”

It seems to me that some people may be having trouble in spending time with their parents. It’s time to kill the silence and stop the hurt.

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Making good conversations is a cornerstone of emotional support

Primarily, there are three areas of support to provide our aging parents, namely financial, physical and emotional. Giving financial and physical support is concrete, but emotional support is abstract. I think making good conversations with parents is the cornerstone of emotional support.

Making conversations with parents is probably my forte. Whenever tricky issues arise, my siblings will turn to me and say, “You go and speak to dad and mom. They listen to you more.” It’s not that I have the gift of the gab. It’s just happens that I have figured out some ways that work:

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1.      Tell Stories

I tell short amusing stories from my job and family. It signals to my parents that I want them to be part of my life. It also assures them that their son is doing well at workplace and home.

My dad smiled when he heard of my work endeavours such as speaking on the air at a local news radio station last year. And my mom laughed when told of the ludicrous things my children said to their mom.

It’s highly satisfying to see your parents smile and laugh at your company.

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2.      Exchange Views

A year ago, I tried to broach the sensitive topic of life and death.  Borrowing a page from the highly-acclaimed “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, I said to my parents,

“Here is an interesting thing Dalai Lama said, ‘death is synonymous to changing our clothes. When clothes become old, then it’s time to change them. When this body becomes old,  it’s also time to change it to a new body.’ No wonder Tibetans have no fear for death. ” 

In subtle ways, I found out that my dad and mom held very different outlook towards death. It also helped me to understand why they held on to certain views about life very strongly.

Source: https://usa.rigpa.org/event/the-tibetan-book-of-living-and-dying-book-course-study-group/

3.      Disagree respectfully

There were times that we disagree over things. I learnt from experience not to pretend that I agree. Parents can easily see through the acting skills of their children. And I find it foolhardy to try to win an argument with them.

In the Analects, the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said,

“In serving your parents, you may disagree with them from time to time and seek to correct them gently. But if they will not go along with you, you must continue to respect and serve them without complaining.

What matters is the expression you show on your face. ‘Filial piety’ doesn’t mean merely doing physical tasks for your parents, or merely providing them with food.”

Reaffirm the points you agree, and clarify the things you do not agree. It takes practice and patience, but it pays off to disagree in a tone and expression that will not hurt your parents’ feeling. And it will make you feel good about yourself as a son or daughter.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analects

4.      Praise and encourage

I have a sense of gratitude towards my parents for raising me. And I honour them out of a sense of duty even if we disagree. But it never occurred to me to see my parents as ordinary human beings who need acceptance and encouragement like everyone else, until the recent years.

My dad told me, “After middle age, I gradually see more people I know in the newspapers obituaries. Then suddenly, it stopped. It dawned on me that none of my friends is left.”

As people age, their friends dwindle and health suffers too. Praise and encourage your parents more. Take a refreshed look at the positives of your parents. You will be surprised how much you take after them.

Just the other day, my mom said,

“You are so much like your dad. Like to make friends and be with people.”

I returned the compliment, “That I agree. But I realise I am so much more like you when things go awry. I will dig in my heels and tahan (Malay word for ‘endure’) all the way.”

My mom nodded smilingly in approval.

Finally, if you are not good at making conversations, there is just one thing that you can definitely do much better than I do.

Lend your parents a good listening ear.

William W K Tan

8 March 2019


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