guilt

Avoiding “Call Your Mother!” Guilt Trips As Your Kids Grow Up

"This is a horizontal photograph of a bright yellow rotary phone. The perspective is overhead, looking down. The vintage telephone sits on top of a wood surface."

There’s an old rhyme I used to love in my youth: “Your son is your son ’till he finds him a wife/ Your daughter’s your daughter the rest of your life!”

Of course, I was a daughter then, and had a close relationship with my dear mama; so, the poem worked for me. And then I grew up to have some amazing sons, and wonderful daughters-in-law.

These girls are truly the other halves of my adult sons. They have become daughters to me. But the poem, like many such sayings, has some truth behind it. I see that my daughters-in-law are in constant touch with their mothers, while their husbands are following our teaching to them: they are cleaving unto their wives (but not necessarily making as much time for their old parents, ahem).

I love the way my fine sons pour out their hearts to their brides, especially when they don’t share a lot of their feelings with others. But, of course, I miss them and I miss the closeness we once had.

So here are some steps I have taken to make the transition easier.

1. I recognize that my guys are busy building their futures, and their families. This is much more time-consuming than they or we realized, back in their hanging-out-around-the-house days. I acknowledge this reality and accept it.

2. I make appointments to talk to them. Really! These are busy adults. I do use “Mom Leverage” to an extent. Not too heavily–I don’t want to drive them or their wives crazy. But I have asked the guys to keep in touch. Even once a week. Even for a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be a phone call or visit (for me–each family needs to set its own parameters). We are often satisfied with a WhatsApp or Facebook private message. Each of them has agreed to make time once a week for communication; and that seems to be working for all of us.

3. My husband and I realize that we are increasingly more portable than are our kids, with their kids. So instead of insisting that they come to us, we offer to find a time that is agreeable to all of us, and come to them. This can be for a Shabbat or simply for an afternoon/evening, after everyone begins to return from work. Earlier in the day is set aside for grandchildren.

4. We try to make it worth their while. My kids don’t need to be “bought” but let’s face it: their days are pretty heavily structured now, with work and family responsibilities. And they’re stretched thin. So, it’s not a bad idea to offer to buy them dinner, babysit so they can go out without the kids, or drop in with groceries or small presents. I see how harried they are, and I remember those days. Doing up a sink of dishes–as long as there is no hint of judgment–can be a nice favor. This is my attitude with all visits: try to make yourself helpful; try to make your visits something everyone looks forward to and benefits from. There is no “one size fits all” for this. You and your children will work out what is best for you. Talk it out. Don’t assume.

5. We work very hard to avoid any sense of laying on a guilt trip. It helps that I reared these young men, and I know that they are good people. When they don’t seem to have time for us–I remember that it’s not about us. They really don’t have a lot of time! When we relieve them of guilt, it’s more likely that they will want to spend time with us or contacting us, when they can.

6. We realize that being grownups means sharing. So, we never, ever make them feel bad about time spent with their wives’ parents. Some holidays they come to us, some holidays they go to the families of their wives. Sometimes, we all try to get together. This has worked very well to reduce the natural tension of shared families.

It’s tough to let our kids grow up. But when we acknowledge their adulthood, we and they (and our mechutanim) can all work it out together.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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