Lost and Overwhelmed

Q: As we all go through this difficult period, I understand that no one is really expected to act in a regular way. I don’t want to bear grudges towards my children (all married with families), so I write to you, with questions of how I should act towards them.

I am an almanah, but have managed okay on my own, baruch Hashem. I’m still working, and I usually don’t need to depend on my children.

But now, as everyone is confined to their homes, I’m really at a loss, when it comes to certain things. My friends say that I am fortunate to have children nearby, but their reaching out to me is limited. Maybe they think that I have neighbors around who will help me (besides grocery stores that do deliveries), but most families have been busy taking care of themselves. Sometimes seeming too independent can be unhelpful in times like these.

Relying on people to get food for you — or anything for that matter — is very uncomfortable. My children say that they’ll come by, but waiting around till they show up is nerve-wracking.

I don’t think I’m a jealous person by nature, but I see other older people whose children run to them at their every request.

While my children were growing up, I was very responsive to them — I thought children learn from us by our being role models. Maybe my husband and I were too giving and didn’t ask for enough kibbud av va’eim from our children while they were growing up. And their behavior is a result of this.

I feel that these words seem unimportant, compared to the horrific situation that we find ourselves in with the virus. And yet I know that it wouldn’t help anything if I walk around with this resentment. Any thoughts come to mind?

A: Looking for a constructive solution, when it comes to relationships with adult children, is a most delicate and sensitive endeavor. We need to change (not lower) our expectations, to avoid being continually disappointed in their responses to us.

You don’t mention how you communicated your needs to your children. Was it done in a way of a direct request, or rather making a statement of what would be helpful to you? A distracted mother of small children may not hear messages, unless they are specific and directed towards her directly. Parents of adult children may not realize what their children might be going through (eg., grandchildren’s illnesses, shalom bayis problems), as children often attempt to shield their parents from unnecessary pain (and sometimes embarrassment).

Taking things at face value is always a subjective take on life. It is also always the easiest way to experience disappointment.

Adult children who more readily respond to their parents may not necessarily respect or love their parents more. Some children are more responsible and/or guilt-ridden by nature — no matter how they were brought up. Some children feel that they “owe” their parents (and their parents may often remind them of this), if they supported them in learning or paid for their professional schooling. In hindsight, a parent can question their parenting acumen, but there are usually a number of elements that create a particular parent/child response.

The question now is where to go from here. How should you speak to your children? The idea of communicating through a “cushion method” has been discussed previously in this column. By starting a comment with a supportive beginning, and ending with a comforting phrase, the words in between will usually not be perceived as a judgment or criticism. The more specific your request is, the less chance will there be of miscommunication occurring.

An example of this in your case, might be: “I hope that everything worked out well for Yom Tov — I’m just calling about the pharmacy pickup that we spoke of before Yom Tov — do you think you might be able to get it here before 4 today? My time is pretty tight today. Whatever you do is always appreciated.”

Though you may feel that it is “unfair” to have to walk on eggshells with your children, this communication method is respectful of anyone. Would one not prefer to be spoken to in this manner, when presented with a request?