We have retired recently and have a problem with our 29-year-old daughter. She has a high-profile job and has had a child recently. Any help that we give her is not enough. Recently, she even expressed anger that my husband and I are planning a three-week trek. We have been doing her finances and taxes, as also those of her husband’s. We were there for her through her pregnancy, and supported her through higher education. We are being forced to treat her as our primary responsibility even now. Can we not enjoy our existing good health and retirement in ways that we want?
“Once you are a parent, you are one till your dying day.” This is a sentiment many have expressed over the ages. No doubt, one’s concern and involvement as a parent never ends. However, surely the nature of that concern and involvement does and must change as parents age and children become grown people? Since you so clearly resent this “never-ending-story”, you would be doing yourself and your daughter a favour by spelling out, without being apologetic, what you are happy to do and what you are being forced to do.
Many parents today continue to micromanage their children’s lives, even when these children are 25, 35 or more. Some children resent it and want to get away from this degree of interference (which hides under the name of “I love you and worry for you”). However, some find it convenient and become incapable of functioning without the parents’ daily support. So we find parents of grown children being their accountant, manager, babysitter, nurse, chauffeur, secretary, counsellor, bill payer, tax consultant, all rolled into one!
Life lessons: Stop cushioning your child from everyday concerns. Photo: Thinkstock
Most parents cannot or will not say anything as they are “supposed” to be there for their children. But it often comes out in front of a counsellor or a concerned friend: “I am an unpaid maid”; “Our retirement years were not meant to be so stressful”; “What to do, they have to chase money, and we have to help them.” These are some of the common statements that come from overworked, ageing parents. While some complain, others feel their existence is made better by being “needed and indispensable”, even at the cost of their own health.
Where does the root of this parenting-forever phenomenon lie? It starts from the infamous “board exam” days. The child is “not to be troubled or burdened” with any family responsibilities— be it a sick grandparent, or a wedding to attend, or helping around the house, or being social with the extended family. This goes on with the class XII boards, where the “competition” stakes are higher, so the child is further “protected” from everyday concerns. So it goes on when the young adult is pursuing higher qualifications, at a new job, etc. The pursuit of “excellence” (and, therefore, money) becomes primary and the development of any other socially and personally useful behaviour is simply not expected of the child. When adult life demands that they engage in more than just their careers, the parents step in and provide all the “essential services”.
Frankly, this is a way of crippling our children and ensuring we never can or will step out of the equation in a more detached and yet loving way as older parents of grown children. “Being there” for our children in a wise but enabling way, so that they become well-rounded adults, is hard mental and emotional work, but it must be done. The key seems to be in remaining interested in your children and not anxiously spreading yourself thin for them.
Our 32-year-old son and his wife recently moved abroad to pursue higher studies and jobs. While they were in the same city as us in the first few years of their marriage, my wife expected daily calls, meals together on weekends, and other such things. She was also eager to give them household advice. They interpreted this as interference, but did not say anything directly. After she accused them of abandoning us by going abroad, we got an email from our son saying he was fed up of her being too overbearing and that “she should get a life”. My wife, angry, replied, saying the daughter-in-law was instigating him. I tried to explain to her that we must listen to what he is saying, to no avail. He visited recently, but stayed with us for exactly 72 hours. I don’t know how to put a stop to this deterioration in relationship.
All of you need time away and outside of your established lines of communication to take stock and really soul-search about how to reconfigure your relationship with your grown son and his wife. Your son has raised an alarm with his clear statement; however hurtful it is, it has come with a lesson and some truths. It would be advisable for both you and your wife to pay heed. Perhaps your wife needs to see a counsellor or a wise family friend who will bring a fresh perspective. She needs also to be encouraged to commit to a mind-body health programme such as yoga or similar pursuits.
You yourself seem to be under severe stress and it would be advisable for you to simply shut down any more conversations with your wife on this subject. Stay out of it firmly, asking that the subject not be discussed any more for, perhaps, the next month. This would be much better than discussing it threadbare in highly emotionally charged circumstances between yourselves and with your son.
If you want to keep up a healthy line of communication with your son, send him weekly emails talking about pleasant things, asking after his own well-being and staying firmly out of the politics between your wife and him. Do not expect instant “normalization” between you and him, but continue to put out a clear signal that your relationship goes above and beyond recriminations and guilt trips.
Both you and your wife need to find pursuits other than your son and his family. You will find that your relationship will improve considerably once he feels you are not constantly watching him or expecting them to behave in ways dictated by the mother.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org