While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On growing and remaining close to a child who has little in common with you: I’m an only child who takes after my father and have settled in a city across the country from my parents. My mother had a very idealistic view of mother-daughter relationships — for years she compared my behavior to that of her friends’ children, sighed over my life choices, and generally voiced her displeasure that our bond “was not what it should be.”
This kind of talk only served to alienate me. I could no more easily change the way I felt about politics or religion than I could change my fear of heights or the fact that I love dark chocolate or bad horror movies. Of all the pressures to place on an only child, a parent’s criticism of a child’s essential “differentness” is so daunting because it demands that a child must change who they fundamentally have grown to become.
Over time, my mother has learned to slowly let go of this standard, but only because I made it very clear that her expectations were killing whatever relationship we had. We have grown stronger with acceptance, and I think both of us are surprised at how close we’ve grown. Don’t get me wrong, we still get off the phone angry sometimes, and there is a fair amount of tongue-biting and eye-rolling. But there’s also a lot of love.
I’d like to caution parents against holding on to the idea of a relationship. Please love and accept the imperfect, maddening, sweet, lovable, mysterious child that you have. Don’t waste another moment of your life or theirs with hopeless dreams and needless comparisons. The sooner you let go of the “lack” you’re holding on to, the sooner you can hold something real and true.
On partners who expect you to serve as their ongoing intellectual growth opportunity: I married A. just eight months ago, a second marriage for me and a first for him. We are both 66 years young. He brought years of world travel and success in the stock market, along with the knowledge of how to take care of his mother until she was over 100 years old. What did I bring to this marriage? I brought a love of God, family and fun.
A. took me to New York for the first time in my life and I took him to Macy’s to visit Santa, which A. had never done in his entire life. I brought him four handsome grandsons who think he is amazing and call to ask him how to fix things and make volcanoes with them (A. was a chemical engineer), and they make a grand mess in the kitchen when they visit. I am teaching him compassion for an abandoned cat who now allows us to feed her and take her to the vet. One of my daughters trades him cookies for odd jobs he does around her house for her, while her husband calls for advice every time his car needs a repair.
He plans our many trips to lands I have never been to, and I make the friends while we are there.
Everybody brings something to a relationship, and people need to value their own contributions. We are all worth a whole lot.
Life Is Good
On worrying more about grown children who are unmarried than about the married ones: When an adult child is single and becomes disabled or is not able to care for themselves it falls to the parent to be the caretaker. A married child has a spouse to fill that role but a single child doesn’t have anyone to step in and care for them in case of an accident.
Losing a child to death is unbearable as it is. Caring for a disabled child is also heart-wrenching, and the parent may not have the ability to be the caretaker because of their own health issues. Does the adult child have long-term care insurance or life insurance, for that matter?
A Caretaker Mom
When your adult child lives alone, you worry about their safety. A spouse, a roommate, will notice (one hopes) if said child does not come home at night.
Even a constant girlfriend/boyfriend, who will have been in contact 12 times a day, will notice.
In fact, when my son broke up with his dear constant companion, aside from breaking my heart, the worry surfaced that with her no longer in daily contact, who would know if he got sick, fell down, etc.
A friend made her kids call her to let her know where they were so they could be reached. She said, “What if something happened to me and no one knew how to reach you?” — shifting the responsibility to them. It worked.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.