“A mother is only as happy as her saddest child,” a close friend’s grandmother used to say.
When I first heard her say this, all three of my children were young and safely in the nest so I could totally relate. Somehow I thought once they were grown up this would change.
Trouble finds its way into everyone’s lives – and as much as we hate it – trouble finds our adult children.
Whether it rears its ugly head in a personal relationship, at work or at school, it is challenging for an ex-helicopter Mommy like myself not to want to swoop in and fix everything. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t.
My first major hurdle into non-hovering was a bad break-up my eldest daughter, The Piglet, went through back in college. Sending that first one out of the nest was hard enough, keeping my nose out of her business was even harder.
The Piglet had her first real relationship during her freshman year. It was serious enough that he was brought home to meet the parents. When it fell apart, it fell apart bad. The Piglet was not forthcoming with the details and I’m pretty sure I did an adequate job of avoiding the desire to pry. I don’t know the gory details to this day, but I got the feeling she was more mad than hurt.
Because I wasn’t aware of all the details, as a mother, I made up the worst. The worries grew faster than the scenarios I made up. Was she crying in bed, alone? Were her friends being supportive? Was she eating? Do I need to fly up there and club the boyfriend like a baby seal?
Turns out she handled it well and has learned from the experience. Her criteria for a suitable companion are more honed. She sees relationship warning lights clearer. She grew by leaps and bounds. These are lessons she might not have learned if I had been there clubbing the seal.
Our middle spawn, Decibel, used to be a disaster with money. She couldn’t save it. This was not a good combination with the feast or famine income of a NYC freelance artist type. Frankly, the whole situation scared the crap out of me.
Decibel went to college in the city, fell in love with it and proclaimed she would never leave. She was hit by the you’re an adult now freight train upon finishing school and was on her own monetarily. New York City is EXPENSIVE! Add in a toxic job market with a tanking economy, things were scary and bleak indeed.
It wasn’t long before we were hit up for a loan. Decibel knew our policy, we raise you, we put you through school and then it’s time to grow up. Period. For her to ask, I knew she was swimming through dire straits. It was SO hard to say no.
It’s a lot harder to enforce a policy than to make one. As she told me how rough things were, I heard myself saying gems like “get a second job” and “maybe you should move to a less expensive city,” when I REALLY wanted to say, “Honey, I’ll be right there and we’ll work this out together,” or the more dangerous, “how much to you need?”
Caving in was not an option. Decibel was devastated by conversation’s end and I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I was in a funk for a good long time. Sometimes parenting really sucks.
Decibel did go out and get a job she hated, continued to freelance and is now established in her field. To my knowledge, has never been flat broke again. Going hungry is a valuable lesson.
Most recently, The Boy was whacked with a whopper. He was slapped with flu during exam time at college. Tending to a sick child from a distance is typically enough to launch the strongest of Mommies into a funk. Couple the flu with getting a poor grade on a crucial exam – The Boy was inconsolable. In his weakened state, he saw no light at the end of the tunnel, and nothing I could say made him feel better. As a matter of fact, I sensed I was making it worse.
It’s harder for me to connect with The Boy. His older siblings are girls – and I know how to talk girls off of the ledge. Heck, I usually have them laughing at the situation by the time I’m done.
Not so with The Boy. Maybe it’s because he’s not as emotional in the first place but he’s just not a “talk it through” kinda guy. At least not on my timetable.
Because I AM a talk it though kinda gal, this adds to my Mommy stress. I feel completely unhelpful and helpless. It is SO hard for me not to continually pick up the phone to try a new angle out on The Boy. But all of my “this won’t seem so bad in week, month, year… while, trust me” and “let’s walk through the situation together” lines sounded ludicrous as soon as they spilled out of my mouth.
Later, I realized The Boy WANTS to work things out on his own – an ultimate good parenting goal – and my over-supportiveness is just plain hindering his progress. It hit me like a I don’t need you to fix everything Mommy ton of bricks. Wow, no more kissing boo boos.
Hmmm…could this mean I’m hovering – or wanting to hover – just to make MYSELF feel better? If it is true that a mother IS only as happy as her saddest child, could I be just trying to “fix” my own situation?
Is this what meddling is? OH JEEZ. How in the fudge am I supposed to know the difference between helping and meddling?
All of three of these episodes helped me realize that all any parent can really do is listen, listen, listen.
And in the end, listen a bit more.
Are You a Snow Plow Parent? 7 Modern Parenting Terms
9 Things We Wish We’d Known BEFORE We Sent Our Kids to College
Crowdsourcing the ULTIMATE College Care Package
What if My Adult Child is Addicted to Online Gaming?
YOUR TURN: Help me out here! Any tips on dealing with an adult child who’s hurting? What IS the difference between helping and meddling? How do we know when the line is crossed?