[I review the movies "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "Small Town Murder Songs," "Starbuck," "Ginger and Rosa" and extol the virtues of stair walking and meditation.]
Parenting and Grandparenting from a Distance
OK, OK, I know I am being overly dramatic here.
But I sometimes sit with my little wine-guzzling poodle and wonder how my life veered so hugely from how I was brought up and what my expectations were.
I grew up a block from my grandparents - my Dad's parents. They were a big part of my childhood - holiday celebrations, Sunday dinners. They had a TV before we did, so I remember going over there on Friday nights to watch the Friday Night Fights (boring) and Ed Sullivan. As a teen, I was expected to read the newspaper to my grandmother every afternoon after school and take her for walks. She was blind. As my grandparents aged, my Dad, who was an only child, would stop by their house on his way home from work to fix their dinner. So I lived near my grandparents until I went off to college, and my grandparents lived in their own home until their deaths at 89 and 92.
But my generation was a different generation, and it was not unusual for young people to move away from their families.
I know it was very difficult for my mother when I not only went to college and rarely came home, but on the day I graduated, I announced I was moving to California, thousands of miles from my home in Michigan. She must have been crushed, but she never said anything, never complained. I should have learned from her example. But I didn't.
As I look at this picture of her helping me get my room ready on my first day at college, I can relate to what she must have been feeling.
Despite the fact that we raise our children to be independent, happy and successful, it doesn't often occur to us as they grow up that they might live their independent, happy and successful lives far away from us.
If I might brag a bit here, my son is a successful attorney, happily married with two lovely little boys. My daughter is a Stanford graduate embarking on a new career in Information Science and happily married to a professor.
So what's the problem?
My son is 900 miles away and my daughter is 3000 miles away.
So while I am happy that my children are happy and successful, what my mother and I both didn't bargain for was that we wouldn't be a part of that happiness and success.
It's a cruel irony that we raise interesting, kind and responsible children and just when they get old enough to participate in adult activities and carry on interesting conversations with us, they move away!
I know I am not alone in this. This is probably more the norm for parents and grandparents than not these days.
So how do we remain in our adult children's and grandchildren's lives when they live far away?
How do we create those shared histories and memories, so crucial for maintaining close relationships?
When our children were living at home, we participated in our children's activities and had family nights and trips. My husband and I both came home after work and spent most of our free time with the kids.
When they went off to college, I decided not to be a "helicopter parent," calling them all of the time and bothering them. I wanted them to find their own way, thinking they would call me when needed. But what I really wanted was to talk to them every day. When I did call them, our conversations would be terse or they wouldn't pick up at all. That would hurt, so I resolved that I would wait until they called me, thinking if they called me, then they would have set aside the time and we would have nice conversations. Not necessarily so. I have always been envious of parents whose children say, "My Mom is my best friend. I can't imagine not talking to her everyday." That didn't happen for me.
There was a disconnect between what my expectation of the mother-child relationship should be and the reality.
We sold our house and left California for Washington State when our daughter was a sophomore right before the housing bubble burst. That was a good thing, but what we didn't anticipate was the difficulty for people of a certain age to start over somewhere new not knowing anyone there. However, our daughter really liked the Seattle area so I was fairly certain that she would join us after college. However, through a series of events, she stayed in California and eventually met a fellow there who was visiting from Atlanta. She married him and off they went.
Our son was ensconced in his life in California and as he frequently reminds me, he only lives an hour and a half from his childhood home. WE are the ones who left.
So that's how it happens. One story out of many, I am sure.
So as the reality of the "empty nest" set in, I began overcompensating for the distance by oversharing all of the angst I felt about how difficult it was adjusting to this new life, new job, not knowing anyone, etc. My rationale was if I did this, my children would continue to get to know me and we would stay close that way. Not recommended.
So what do you do?
Well, don't do what I did.
Here is what I have learned.
First of all, when your children leave for college, call them as much as you would like to.
It doesn't do any good to pretend to feel something you don't. Just know they have issues of their own as they adjust to their new lives, so don't get your feelings hurt if they don't pick up or return your calls or have monosyllabic conversations with you. At least you are making the effort to show your love and that will resonate with them later. I think in the end, my not calling made them think I didn't care.
Yes, you might be feeling sad or having difficulties with your own life, but they have their own problems. Worrying about their parents shouldn't be one of them.
Get your own life.
As I look back, I see that yes, I had a career, but once my children came, I saw my main role as mothering. I have had to reconcile myself to the fact that this role is now behind me. Your adult children no longer need mothering, so it's time to take stock and redefine your role. Then when you are in touch, you have something interesting to share with them. We are all friends on Facebook and I send them my blog, so we can keep up with each other online in between phone calls.
Be a friend.
Your adult child doesn't need a mother, but everyone needs a friend. And your children should be given the same respect and deference you would give your friends. Infantilizing your adult children will only make them not want to be around you. Be a good listener.
Avoid guilt trips.
There are other parents involved when your children marry and those parents also want time with your children and their spouses. Holidays can be particularly difficult. In our situation, the "kids" have rotated every Christmas with each family. The first Christmas we were alone was very difficult...it would have been very easy to call them and say "This cannot happen again." But we went to Paris instead (something I would actually not recommend...I mean, Paris at Christmas, which was a zoo, not the going away part. I think Buenos Aires would have been better). If this happens to you, get away from what makes you sad and do something that will make you happy and look forward to next year.
Create an environment your kids will want to return to.
When your adult children and their families do come to visit, it creates a somewhat unnatural balance. If we all lived in the same town, we could get together when we wanted to and enjoy each other's company as long as we wanted and then return to our respective homes when we got tired of each other. When families come together from long distances, they usually stay for awhile in your home and that can create pressure to spend all of that time together, knowing that everyone will soon part. Also it's sometimes close quarters. So treat your family members with the same respect you would show your guests, giving them space to be alone if they want and looking after their individual needs. Plan fun events and a comfortable, fun environment. The last time our daughter and her husband visited, I made up a list of "adventures" we could tackle - they could choose which one. They chose kayaking and it just about killed me! But our adventure was a funny story we could all share.
Try to plan the next time you will see your children again.
If you can manage it, check in with your adult children and try to find a time in the not too distant future when you all can get together again. It might be around an event like a major birthday or some fun activity they might like. When my husband turned 60, we all gathered at a condo in Lake Tahoe to celebrate. But keep in mind, if your adult children have their own children, it is probably easier for you to travel than for them. To know when you will see them again makes it easier.
Share family stories and pictures.
They may not care now, but they will later in life. I wish I had asked my mother and dad more questions.
And what about the grandchildren?
We grandparents who must do our grandparenting from a distance fear being strangers to our grandchildren.
How do we transcend the miles?
Skype is a godsend.
When they are infants, you can see them and they can hear your voice. As your grandchildren get older, you could read stories or make up silly stories and use props or teach them some songs.
Keep current on your grandchildren's interests.
My oldest little grandson is obsessed with the movie "Cars," and already anticipating "Planes," so I come prepared to watch "Cars" with him and to bring him toys of those characters, or whatever is his latest obsession.
Write letters and cards to them.
Corresponding by letter is almost dead these days, but it is a still a wonderful way to interact with your grandchildren. When we were in London recently, I sent my 2-year-old grandson a postcard with a double decker bus on it, because I knew he loved buses and trucks. I said, "This is how people ride around in London. Glammy and Papi (yes, I'm Glammy) rode on one of these and thought of you. Maybe you can ask Daddy to show you where London is on a map so you can see where we are." As your grandchild gets older, you can send longer messages and letters.
Don't wait until birthdays or the holidays to send little thoughtful or fun gifts. Sending something for no reason would be a happy treat for your grandchildren and remind them of you.
I can't say that I have heeded my own advice at all times and, in fact, as you can see, I have made some pretty bad mistakes. I have had to change my expectations.
I am certainly still a work in progress, especially now that I have recently retired, which is a whole new world unto itself. But I am committed to continuing to define my role in my adult children's lives and to be an active grandmother - one step at a time, no matter the distance. Now I need to go. I hear a little poodle getting into the wine again!
How did you handle your empty nest?
How have you handled being a grandparent from a distance? Any cool tips?
Rosy the Reviewer's Week in Review
I have four little gems for you this week, ones you might have missed.
"Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Rashida Jones and Adam Samberg play a divorced couple who try to stay friends. A really sweet romcom about two very likable people who just aren't meant to be...and that's OK. Rashida Jones was co-writer of the screenplay. Did you know that Rashida Jones is the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton of "Mod Squad" fame?
Rosy the Reviewer says...sweet and a different twist on the "soul mate" issue.
An almost unrecognizable Peter Stormare (remember the woodchipper guy in Fargo?) plays a tormented cop in a Canadian Mennonite community who must come to grips with his violent past. It's a mere 75 minutes long, but it gets a lot done.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Slow moving and gripping at the same time. Reminiscent of "The Killing."
This is not about the coffee chain, but about a loser of a fellow who made money donating to a sperm bank only to find out later he had fathered 500+ children and 142 of them want to meet him! A very funny and entertaining French-Canadian film (subtitles).
Rosy the Reviewer says...lots of adult fun!
Sally Potter is the female Woody Allen. She writes, directs and gets famous actors to play small parts in her small films (Oliver Platt, Christina Hendricks and Annette Bening in this one). One of my fav films is her "The Tango Lesson," which she also starred in. This one follows two inseparable friends in 1960's London in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis and what they get up to. Baby Boomers can relate to the practice of ironing one's hair to get it super straight and sitting in a bathtub to shrink your Levis so they fit perfectly, or I can anyway. Potter's stories unfold in the slice of life realm, but they are affecting. I think she is very underrated.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Potter needs a larger audience.
Nothing to report this week. I'm trying not to eat. Have to start somewhere.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Food...why does it have to be so hard?
Rosy the Reviewer says...Food...why does it have to be so hard?
According to "Lucky Magazine," pointy-toed shoes are back for fall as are over-the-knee boots and the kick flare skirt. The color palettes are black and pink and zebra stripe and green (has zebra stripe replaced leopard as the new black?).
After having gone through three closets this last week of clothes I will never wear again, including pointy-toed shoes, over-the-knee boots and kick flare skirts, my obsession with fashion is starting to seem out of fashion. Well, I might still wear the over-the-knee boots.
Completed another Seattle stair walk. This is one of my absolute most fun ways to get exercise - urban walks that combine nature and neighborhoods. It's a great way to get to know your town or City better. We did 5 miles in about 2 hours followed by some champs. There always must be reward!
I don't know if you would call this fun exactly, but I have started Oprah's 21-Day Meditation Challenge. You can sign up, too, if you are so inclined. I am looking forward to the miraculous relationships it promises! :)
I am doing that along with my 10-day Headspace course, so I am getting there. I can now do 10 minutes with no problem and did an extra 10 today starting the Oprah Challenge. Can't tell if it's working yet. I still scream at the dogs when they bark their heads off when the FedEx truck drives by while I am trying to meditate. Seems counter productive somehow! OM....
So that's it. Week five in this new world of retirement.
How did your week go?