Dear Carolyn: I am retired and live alone. Although my daughter lives nearby, I rarely see or hear from her. If I text her a question, she will usually answer in as few words as possible. A phone call is very rare.
She works full time and is very busy with a husband and four kids. I realize she has a lot on her plate and is probably doing the best she can. However, I have friends who are blessed to talk to their daughters almost every day. Should I just give up on ever having a closer relationship with my only daughter?
— Close but Far Away!
Close but Far Away!: Disclaimer first. This answer isn’t for purists or believers in the doctrine of “should”: A daughter should make time for Mom. Loved ones shouldn’t have to be useful to be included. Etc.
Why? Because if my two choices are to be included or to be right, I’ll take included, thanks.
So in your place, whether my daughter was too busy for me or too fed up with me for past mistakes, I’d offer myself up as a way to make her life easier. Who can I pick up from day care or soccer? Can I start dinner two nights a week?
Or, date night — I’ll come babysit every Friday. If you think I lack the patience or mobility to wrangle all four (it’s okay to say that to my face!), then I’ll recruit a fellow-grandma friend and we’ll team-babysit our grandkids on alternate weeks.
Is there something useful, my beloved busy daughter, that I overlooked? Suggest away. Grocery shopping? Take the youngest out in the stroller? Done. Come by at bath-and-bed time with two extra hands and the most patient book-readings on Earth? I’m on it.
And while in your home, I will not give you unsolicited advice. I will not look at you funny when you do things differently from the way I used to, as if the criticism is throwing itself against my pursed lips in a death struggle to get out.
I will not bring junk foods you’ve banned, even if I secretly think you’re being uptight.
I will not remark casually to the wallpaper that I find it hard to believe so many food allergies are real.
I will say out loud that you’re raising kids in a very different climate from the one I knew as a mom, and yours is harder, and you’re doing a great job.
I will not ask you so many questions on what to do next that I just become one more thing for you to manage. I’ll either be helpful by your standards or get out of the way.
I will not complain once, not even in pointed-sigh form, that you don’t call enough. I will remind myself that guilt-regurgitators make miserable company and I will choose not to be miserable company.
And I will not wonder where my payoff is after pitching in for all of a month. I’ll recognize it as a long-term investment in love.
If it’s too late and I’ve squandered your trust: I’ll admit my errors — citing specifics; I’ll promise better — citing specifics; then back off to prove I’m sincere.
Good luck, and good Grandma.
(Now, I burn this so my kids can’t make me eat it someday.)