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Dear Debra: A Lonely Mom
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My daughter graduated college last year and moved to California. She enjoys her work, shares a cute apartment with friends and has a new boyfriend. I know I should be happy, but I am miserable. When we talk, I battle not to make her feel guilty for leaving. I keep our conversations light, but I am so very sad and frustrated at how hard it is to stay in touch. How can I get past this and celebrate what I know are good milestones?
— Lonesome Mom
Dear Lonesome Mom,
Good for you for quelling the guilt monster. Guilt is a sure way to create distance. Instead, continue to keep it light. Let your daughter share what she chooses and be interested. Support her choices and voice your pride. Your daughter is aware, on some level, of your pain. Give her the gift of knowing you are OK so that she can live her life fully and without second doubts.
A child moving out and on can leave a huge gap. Fill it with good stuff — a new hobby, volunteering, meditation. You didn’t mention if you are married or if there are other children at home, but if you have a spouse or partner, cultivate a new joint interest. Create some new special experiences with the child(ren) still at home. If you need to see a therapist to process your grief, do so. Our local Jewish Family Service is a good place to begin. Your sorrow is normal. Just don’t let it become the norm.
Now let’s move on to your letter’s last seven words — “celebrate what I know are good milestones.” Exactly. You have fulfilled your mission and raised a fully functioning young adult. That’s the rub about parenting. We do our job and then, darn it, they go off and live their lives!
Some 20 years ago I heard author and scholar Daniel Matt speak about his book, God and the Big Bang. Matt was sharing the Kabbalistic understanding of the creation of the world in which God (the Ain Sof, without end) withdrew God’s great and endless Divine light so as to leave a place for human beings to exist and thus have the space to grow into their potential.
I believe there is an analogy here to parenting. You are in every cell of your daughter’s being. For her to grow into her full potential, you must withdraw a bit and give her space, confident that in your absence, you are still present. You have left within her the light of your love, your lessons and example, a lifetime of shared experiences. Do what you need to fill the absence with positive emotions and actions while maintaining a respectful connection. You never know what may happen. Your daughter just might return one day. LA real estate is prohibitive.
A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer. We caught it early; I went through surgery and treatment and all is well. Other than a yearly check-up, I have put the experience behind me and am enjoying my life.
The problem is a relative who remains in high-drive concern. Whenever we speak, she asks pointedly about the cancer and how I am doing. I have told her I have stricken the word from my vocabulary, and I have moved on and no longer want to discuss it. I don’t know how to be any clearer, and she doesn’t seem to get the hint.
I no longer want to take her calls because I know she will bring it up. It’s not that I am putting my head in the sand. I lived through the experience, received the necessary treatment and, thankfully, it has worked. I now choose to focus on the living part and not the experience. How do I get this relative to back off?
— Choosing Life
Dear Choosing Life,
I can imagine no healthier way to have managed the hand you were dealt. You have moved on; your relative has not.
I see three choices with varying degrees of personal comfort. You can continue to screen her calls; but given she is a relative and not a peripheral acquaintance, that option falls into the throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater category.
You can state even more forcefully in person or via a note, i.e., “Relative, I appreciate your ongoing concern. I am healthy and have moved on with my life with gratitude I came through this as well as I have. Please do not bring it up again. When you do, you focus on a time in my life that is not part of my present experience. If you cannot manage this, please understand that I will have to limit our contact.”
Again, you might be approaching the baby and the bathwater, but you’ve given Relative a very clear expectation and outcome should she ignore your stated wishes.
Behind door No. 3 lies one last suggestion — humor her and change the subject. When Relative begins with the concern, interrupt her in a light voice and say, “Oh, Relative! There you go again. Remember? We’ve moved on from that! Now, who do you think this year’s Oscars nominees will be?”
Debra Darvick is the author, most recently, of We Are Jewish Faces.