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How to Handle Tough Family Topics

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Q. My mom just moved to a new town for retirement and seems lonely. She calls me at work almost every day to talk about...nothing. I know she's going through tough life changes, but how can I get her to focus less on me and more on meeting new friends?

A. Between her retirement and her relocation, your mom has lost her neighbors, closest friends, coworkers and, perhaps, sense of purpose. Her dependence on you may feel like a burden, but right now she needs you to be a good listener first and offer suggestions second. Have her try this exercise: Ask her to write down three things that she would like to be doing. That might be fixing up her spare bedroom for visitors, knitting great sweaters for the grandkids or finally having the kind of garden that garners compliments. Then list ways to create that experience. Is it time to attend a class at the local library? Could admiring the neighbor's garden lead to an outing to the local plant nursery together? Lastly, list how she's going to be accountable for doing these things. It may feel like you're more of a friend than a daughter right now, but as she creates a new circle of friends, things will shift back to normal.

Q. The coworker I share a cubicle with makes and receives a lot of personal phone calls. It can be distracting, to say the least. How do I tell her without disrupting our rapport?

A. You mean you're not interested in overhearing her thoughts on last night's episode of Real Housewives of Wherever? Didn't think so. But no one likes to be criticized. So bring up the calls without appearing judgmental. Try: "Can we talk about an issue I've noticed? Your personal conversations can be a little disruptive to me. I know we're all working hard and want to perform at the highest level. Do you think you could make those calls somewhere else? I'll do the same." Negotiating is fine. She may suggest confining her talk time to her lunch break. Just remember: Work is work. This isn't about inconveniencing her; it's about pleasantly getting the job done.

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