I just have to relay this story a patient told me the other day. Let me set up the scenario. So, this patient has a large family. Her children’s ages range from elementary school to college. Some of them are still at home. Some are off at college. She has always had a close relationship with her kids. You could even say that she values them even more than she values herself. She is a perimenopausal woman with let’s say more than her share of hormonal and mood lability, as all of us perimenopausal and menopausal women do. To say that she can be oversensitive at times is probably true. We all can. Let’s add to that the fact that college age kids who have moved out have a very different sense of what is appropriate and acceptable with regard to conversation and “house rules” than elementary age kids do. It’s a recipe for absolute peace and harmony right? That was rhetorical. Of course it isn’t.
Ok now that I have the stage set, let’s look at what happened. The college kids came home for the weekend, one of whom had not been home in months. The whole family goes out to dinner. My patient is super excited to see everybody and hang out. She has already had an emotional day and she can’t to hug the college kids and maybe even play with her daughter’s hair like she used to. She gets totally rebuffed. Now she is already hurt and trying to hide it while they are all sitting there eating, but the hurt is slowly welling up, threatening to take over just the same. Then the conversation starts and she hears her older children making conversation that is just plain uncomfortable for her. She is not sure if they are just trying to be sarcastic and funny or just plain hurtful. When she tries to interject, they just look at her like she is from another planet with that “What’s the problem” expression. Finally, she feels herself losing emotional control and announces that she is going to just go home rather than cause some sort of fight during what was supposed to be a nice family night out. They look at her and laugh and remind her that she doesn’t have a car because they drove. By then she is really embarrassed but can’t back out now and leaves the restaurant, only to find herself crying outside by the restaurant dumpster.
Oh the humanity. That story completely sucks right? It embarrassing. It’s humiliating. There is miscommunication everywhere. The kids probably didn’t realize that the mom was already emotional. The mom probably didn’t realize that the kids were just trying to act grown up and show off their intellectual prowess. It’s just a no win scenario. You are thinking to yourself, I would never do that. I say au contraire! I am willing to bet that there are a lot of moms out there that have been in a similar situation. C’mon you can admit it. Being a mom to college age kids or any kids that have moved out of the house is way harder than you think. Whatever scenarios you thought you had handles when they were teens living at home have paved the way for a whole new set of scenarios to slog through best you can. They have been living on their own without supervision.( Yes that’s right. I am saying that dorm resident advisors are not all they are cracked up to be.) They have been setting their own rules and curfews. They are probably having sex. They have linked up with all kinds of kids from all over the world with all kinds of opinions that you probably don’t share. On top of that, those opinions may or may not be based on any known facts, but they sound cool to spout out with their friends. You as the mom are no longer their primary influence and you are definitely not as cool as they once thought you were now that their horizons have widened. Ugh! Now add on top of that the fact that you are probably at least perimenopausal if not postmenopausal with hot flashes, labile moods and fluctuating hormones and, even on a good day, you could rocket from singing with the radio to screaming or bawling your eyes out in less than 10 seconds. These are the kinds of elements that lead up to the story from above. These are the kinds of elements that foster miscommunications and misunderstandings of epic proportions if you are not conscious of what’s at play. My poor patient and her family were set up from the start from both ends. She was all emotional and ready to bond ” with her babies.” . The kids were ready to joke and act like their interpretation of grown ups. It was set up to fail.
Raising college age kids sounds like a misnomer doesn’t it? A lot of people think that once they are 18, your job is over. Likewise, a lot of college age youth think that they are ready to be fully in charge. Well, neither perspective is really accurate. Our kids will always be our kids and we will always be their parents. We will always have some level of investment in how they end up in the world. That being said, we also have to be ready to modulate our mutual roles in a way that is acceptable to both parties if possible. Sometimes it is not possible, but we have to at least try. As much as I miss picking up my kids and tossing them into the air or playing with their hair and cuddling, I realize that they are just not as up for it as they used to be. I can try to resort to emotional blackmail, but it won’t get me anywhere. I have to realize that these things don’t mean that they don’t love me or love me any less. They are just evolving in how they chose to bond with me. I can sit there hoping that one of them is going to jump into my lap one day and want me to read them a story, but it is not likely to happen. Instead, we might have a conversation about politics(yuck) or what’s going on at school or I just listen to long, what they think is eloquent, speeches about what is important to them at the time. I am just kidding, I love hearing about what is important to them an I love to watch how their thought processes change over time and the evolution of their responses to certain situations. What I don’t love, is if those speeches turn snarky, satirical and hurtful without purpose. If they do, it is up to me to remind them that no matter what opinion they have, it is still their responsibility to voice it responsibly and remain a good human being. Sometimes, as they are espousing away, they don’t even realize that the person listening might think they are just being a jerk, rather than impressing the with their intellectual brilliance. In terms of voicing things responsibly, I also realize now that I am better off if I give people a heads up if I know I am having a perimenopausal emotion buffet day before I head off to any family outings. This system is not fool proof, but it is worth the effort, if you want to still bond with your kids as they get older. The old adage by Khalil Gibran says that ” If you love somebody, let them go for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were. ” I think this means that we have to loosen the reigns and adapt a bit within reason as our kids get older. Then hopefully, they will come back some day, realizing just how cool we really were the whole time! Have a fantastic day everyone!