On October fifth, my article called “Choking on a Short Leash” was in the Jewish Press. The article discussed the need for compromise (as we age and/or are alone) with our children who may become very protective and want to monitor our whereabouts. Finding a middle ground with our protective children, without losing our independence, can be very difficult. The compromise, though livable for both sides, may be satisfying to neither.
Last week, I shared a letter from a mother who wanted to call the whole compromise off as her children were not holding up their part of the deal. She had agreed to call when she was going out at night, only to find her children not bothering to pick up the phone or leave the answering machine accessible to her when she did call. She wanted to just go back to being independent and not be considerate of her children’s fears because of their insensitively toward her needs.
This week, one of my readers presents a very different perspective.
Dear Ms. Novick,
I have been a fan of your articles since you began writing. These articles have been moving and poignant (as was the Wife’s Dilemma), as well as informative (as with the information on banking, long term care insurance, etc.). I have agreed with most of your opinions, but I now feel compelled to reply to your recent article, “Choking on a Short Leash.”
It seems that from Sydney’s activities, she is still a young woman. I am sure that she constantly lived with “waiting for the other shoe to drop” while her husband was alive. Her daughter must have been very young when her father took ill. How much more so did this “waiting for the other shoe to drop” affect her! I can perfectly understand her concern for her mother’s well being. While the concern for the surviving parents probably affects well children more, given the precarious times in which we live, everyone is concerned for loved ones.
Sydney should not view this as being treated like an irresponsible child. A two-second phone call before Sydney left home, informing her daughter of her plans, could have saved the daughter hours of anguish, especially since Sydney was gone for five hours, her car was parked in front of her apartment, and she was not answering her cell. Who would not panic given these circumstances? Did Sydney use role reversal and think of what her reaction would have been if she had come to her daughter’s home and found the same set of circumstances? Why would Sydney want to cause her daughter one more second of “agmas nefesh,” knowing what she grew up with?
Since we live in the time of instant communication, as well as constant danger, both Sydney and her daughter should have an understanding that while not wanting to control each other’s lives, a simple and fast phone call before embarking on any adventure would save the other a lot of heartache. I am sure that Sydney would agree to that.
Thank you for your comments. I think you raise an interesting point and I certainly agree with you from the daughter’s perspective. However, I think you underestimate Sydney’s desperate need not to be accountable after so many years of having to let everyone know of her whereabouts, in case of an emergency with her chronically ill husband. Never being able to leave your home without telling someone where you are going and when you will return, always being on call if you will, for years and years, takes its toll. For Sydney, her newly found freedom may be as important as breathing and just as hard to give up.
In a perfect world Sydney would just make the two-minute call, her daughter always ready for the information and no one would have any emotional fallout. But we are all products of our experience, and our emotions rule how we feel about what we do. To Sydney, being totally accountable to her daughter is something she (and I suspect many of us) cannot live with.
And what about Sydney’s right to privacy? She may not wish to share with her daughter everywhere she is going. She may not want to deal with the inevitable questions of “Why are you going there?” or “Why do you need to do that?” Imagine if she is seeing a therapist and wants to keep it private. Or she may even have a date and feels that her daughter may not be ready for her mother to date. As an adult, she just may not want to go down the slippery slope of accounting for all her whereabouts.
Put yourself in Sidney’s shoes. Do you tell your children everywhere you go and why? Would you want to? There is no perfect solution to the problem, and that is why I recommended a compromise. Perhaps if Sydney’s daughter never asks her where she is going, Sidney will not lose her sense of privacy and control over her life and be more comfortable with telling her daughter each time she leaves.
But is that a realistic expectation? In the end, Sidney and her daughter will have to use trial and error to find a solution that both woman can live with. This solution must allow Sidney to maintain a sense of being in control over her own life and her daughter the feeling of knowing her mother is safe.
What will work for Sidney and her daughter may not be something you would be comfortable with in your own life. The one thing that is true for all of us as we age is that we do need to reach a compromise between our children’s needs for us and our own needs for ourselves. And that compromise will probably change as we continue to age and our health needs change. Let’s toast the golden years.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org