Staying Relevant In My Adult Sons' Lives

My sons - now flown and grown - seem to need me so little. And to go even further into the pity party slump, I am now becoming unhealthily obsessed with asking other mothers of adult sons how often they hear from their offspring - by text, by e mail, by phone or by visit.
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Ok, I admit it. I have had a tough time letting my sons venture out on their own -- though that certainly never stopped them.

Ok, I admit it. I am also prone to negative rumination over the fact that my sons - now flown and grown - seem to need me so little. And to go even further into the pity party slump, I am now becoming unhealthily obsessed with asking other mothers of adult sons how often they hear from their offspring - by text, by e mail, by phone or by visit. I haven't started actually charting the candid (and maybe not so candid) results of my very unscientific survey, but I am getting closer and closer to that dismal decision to mathematically track my findings. In my distorted mind, the number of communications per week equals a certain degree of relevancy that you have in their lives. That's my personal take.

Oh yes. And my other new and unadulterated topic of inquiry - only slightly disguised as real interest - is asking my friends with adult daughters how often they connect. I have realized this puts me on a self-destructive path of mythic proportions, but I venture on. The road usually ends for me in a pit of despair and despondency, laced with a good measure of pure and unadulterated envy. At least with the moms of boys, I get a few reluctant confessions about how they yearn for more conversations with their male offspring, but the moms of grown daughters? OMG! Where do I begin?

"We talk once a day, but text throughout the day."
"In constant touch."
"She's my best friend. I'm her most trusted confidant."
"I can't go a day without her voice."

And that's not even factoring in adult daughters' Facebook postings, complete with glorious and highly emotional content over birthdays, weddings, births of offspring or just over the most mundane occurrences of daily living - most of which wouldn't even register on my sons' relevancy meter.

What did I do wrong? I fostered independence and rewarded them for being true to their own personal wants and dreams. And what did they do? They drank the Kool-Aid, digested the message, embraced life fully and hardly looked back.

Maybe it's their wiring. I once wrote a column about the different responses little girls and boys have toward their moms. And quoted David Heller in his book Children on Mothers.

This is what little girls say about their mothers:
"Be a mother. It's a rewarding thing. Mothers and Christmas are the two best things in the world. And my mother is the best gift I ever got. -- Marie, age 9"

"Dear Mother,
You are the best mother a kid could have. I think you're beautiful. And you are very kind too. I hope I turn out to be as good a mother as you. I want to make you a proud grandma with no gray hairs or worries. -- Jenny, age 8"

"She can keep loving and kissing all day long. Even if it's after nine o'clock. -- Theresa, age 8"

And this is what David Heller has to report on what the boys say about their mothers:

"Can you believe that my mother doesn't know where a linebacker lines up in football? She needs to learn more about the real world. -- Michael, age 9"

"Dear Mummy,
Want to make a deal? You clean up my room for me and I'll start listening to you. What do you say? -- Dick, age 7"

"Mother, I won't tell Dad you lost a hundred dollars on lottery tickets. But that was a dumb way to spend Mother's Day. -- Ryan, age 7"

Dear Mom,
So what if you're fat like a dinosaur? You're still the greatest. Happy Mother's Day. --Mitchell, age 8"

Is it any wonder I yearn for a daughter? I lament that my car's back seat is empty. I lament that my front hall is devoid of dirty sneakers, perched precariously on the stairs. I even lament that my evergreen bushes hide no more empty beer bottles. But I lament the most that I hardly ever hear from my sons about the minute parts of their day or share the same with them.

Friends remind me: that's what wives and girlfriends are for - sharing the minutiae of their lives. Friends remind me: sons just want to know that their moms are OK. They don't need details, nor necessarily want them, from you.

I get it. Well, quite honestly, I guess I get it. But I don't like it. I don't like it one bit.

The days of bringing me home their handmade ceramic tchotchkes (trinkets in Yiddish) from camp, the squiggly worm from the garden, and the trophy for fourth place soccer are long past. Ditto for me being the hub and them being the spokes. Ditto for me knowing where they were or where they said they were or where they wanted me to believe they were!

But a nagging thought persists. If I am not privy to at least some of the details in their richly layered lives, how do we maintain a sense of mother-son intimacy and connection? It puzzles me.

So I do a buck-up self-talk and go hunt up my manuals on both adapting to change and parenting adult children.

My friend Judith Viorst, the wisest sage ever, says in her book Necessary Losses that "letting our children go and letting our dreams for our children go must be counted among our necessary losses."

Perusing my library of empty nest literature, I glean one more helpful hint: A parent can communicate clearly their wishes, needs and expectations, but then needs to step both back and away.

I take a deep breath, hoping to summon up the courage to plow on. And into my head pops a quite simple realization: three of my sons and all five of my grandchildren live over 1,000 miles away. There's no causal visiting for an hour or two, no impromptu lunches, nor requests to pick up a grandchild from nursery school. How do we remain relevant from afar?

An idea germinates: What if I ask them, as a favor to me, to share with me at the end of each work week something in the last seven days that has impacted them - in any way?

And in return, I will promise:
  • to stop comparing daughters to sons and lamenting my lack
  • to stop obsessively equating the number of my encounters with each of them each week as a barometer of their depth of devotion
  • and to treasure their messages forever - just like I treasure them.

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Earlier on Huff/Post50:

1. Discuss Household Expectations

Tips For Living With Adult Children

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