“A Bintel Brief,” the Forward’s signature advice column, is now a podcast hosted by Ginna Green and Lynn Harris. Listen to the latest episode here (or wherever you get your podcasts), and click here to sign up for a weekly newsletter with backstories from the hosts. Need advice? Email email@example.com, or leave a voicemail at (201-) 540-9728.
I’m an 81-year-old mother who wishes to speak on the phone with my long-distance children, ages 51 and 53, more than once a month. They appear to believe that unless I’m sick or if their step-dad is ill, there’s no need to call. I don’t feel a one-line text or email is enough.
When I call my son, I usually get his voicemail. And if I text to ask how things are, he’ll reply, “fine” or “super busy.” He finally called when I emailed that I felt he didn’t want to communicate. My daughter calls more often, usually on her way to work.
I recognize that they lead busy lives, but am I expecting too much? I’ve been a generous gift giver. Is it too late to turn things around? If there appears to be no interest in my well-being, shall I just live my life with my sweet husband (he was a good step-dad) and accept their indifference? I don’t want obligatory homage.
Frustrated and Sad
Dear Frustrated and Sad,
We feel for you!
You’re 81; for 53 and 51 years, you’ve been there. You presumably changed diapers and kissed skinned knees and put them through school and perhaps helped grandchildren. You deserve a call.
It does feel, though, that you might be coming from a place of strategy as opposed to genuinely seeking to communicate or engage. Your framing sounds slightly transactional. You say, “I’ve been a generous gift-giver.” It sounds as if you’re implying that giving lots of gifts to your kids should buy you a certain number of phone calls a year. It sounds like there is some feeling of a debt owed.
There’s probably room for a conversation that starts with a good old “I-statement.” Something gentle — “Hey, you guys: I just would love to hear from you more.” Something like that.
To be fair, though, there’s always a question of how much children owe their parents — it goes right back to the biblical covenant. Yes, that was a covenant between God and the Jewish people, but parents and children also have a covenant. When the kids are small, they’re the parents’ obligation, and as the parents age, they become the kids’ obligation. That is the structure of your relationship — and it isn’t a bad thing!
This is where obligation is love and love is obligation, and not in a gross way. So you say you don’t want “obligatory homage;” we wonder if that’s one reason why you’ve been a little bit passive in asking for what you do want — more phone calls.
One solution might be to work out a calling schedule. Scheduling takes out the wondering and the disappointment and the hoping and the silence. And drawing up a schedule tends to work for both sides — the want-er and the want-ee — because it sets clear expectations, and thus takes pressure off the wants.
It’s possible your children don’t call because they don’t feel like they have the head space to give the time and love and attention you need. But maybe you just want to hear anything from them — and you should tell them that even a brief, slightly distracted call is better than no call. If you schedule it, it’s on the calendar, and whatever they bring to the call, they bring.
You also need to make some space for your kids to be candid with you about their feelings. Maybe they find you a little bit tedious. So what? You’re their mother. They can deal with it. But something might shift in your relationship if they can get that truth out.
Of course, people have different demands on their time. We’re sympathetic to the fact that your children might be busy people. But we all have 24 hours in a day. And the President has time to jog.
These are grown-ass people. They should call their mother.
To hear more of our advice to Frustrated and Sad, download the latest episode of “A Bintel Brief: The Jewish advice podcast” here or on any podcast platform. Send your dilemmas about Jewish-American life, identity, culture, politics or your personal hopes and dreams to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a voicemail at (201-) 540-9728.
Ginna Green is a co-host of the Forward’s “A Bintel Brief” podcast. “Born, raised and returned to South Carolina,” she is also a strategist, writer, movement-builder, and consultant at Uprise . She also sits on the boards of Bend the Arc, Women’s March, Political Research Associates, the Jews of Color Initiative, Jewish Story Partners and the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. Email: email@example.com.
Lynn Harris is co-host of the Forward’s “A Bintel Brief” podcast. A writer, activist and teacher, she founded GOLD Comedy , a school and community for girls and non-binary folks, and previously wrote advice columns for Breakup Girl, Glamour and several other print magazines of blessed memory. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to hear from my kids more, but they won’t call. Should I accept my fate?