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.
I am writing about your article, “Choking on a Short Leash.” I was in a similar situation with my children who started to want to know when I left the house and where I was going once I became a widow. I had also been a well spouse and was now able to just up and leave the house whenever I wanted. I didn’t want to have to call my kids and let them know every time I went out. It made me feel like the child and not the mother and grandmother. My kids and I fought about it a lot.
After I read your article, I decided to take your advice and talk to my kids and see if we could work something out and stop arguing about it. We finally agreed that I would let them know if I left in the evening but not during the day. Well, I did my part of the bargain until last week. I called to tell them I was going out to meet my friends for coffee. The phone rang and rang but no one picked up, and the answering machine didn’t go on either. This meant that someone was on the phone. They have caller ID and call waiting so they knew I was calling. They didn’t bother to call back.
I called five times over the next hour and did not get through to them or the machine. I tried the cell phone but was ignored as well. They just didn’t want to be bothered answering my call. When I finally got through, I was really mad. I asked them what would have happened if it were an emergency and I needed help. “That’s what Hatzoloh is for” was their answer. I am really upset by what they did and what they said. I see no reason to call in and tell them where I am anymore. As far as I’m concerned, the deal is off and I have my freedom back.
A very angry mother
Dear Angry Mother,
I understand and sympathize with your feelings. Their comment about Hatzoloh was certainly not what you needed to hear. I suspect that it just further compounded your feelings of rejection brought about by not having your phone calls answered. It was a thoughtless comment and inappropriate response. However, it sounds like the plan had been working well until this happened. Let me suggest that we give your children the benefit of the doubt and that we practice “dan l’kaf zechus.“
Since you identified yourself as a mother and a grandmother, I am going to assume you have grandchildren in your children’s homes. Perhaps your call came at a very busy time. Your children could have been putting their children to bed and didn’t want to be interrupted. Maybe the phone was off the hook or a teenager was on the phone and decided not to take the call waiting or look at the caller ID. Or, maybe your children were on the phone with a teacher or on a business call and they were not comfortable interrupting the conversation, and later forgot to check the caller I.D. Perhaps the day had gone badly and it was chaotic in the house when you called and they wanted to put off talking to you until things had calmed down.
There are many events that could have occurred that can explain why they didn’t answer your call. (I am not saying that not taking the call is correct, but sometimes things happen that get in the way of a correct response.) As we age and our homes lose the hustle and bustle of having a busy family around, we sometimes forget how difficult it is to manage in the chaotic times of the day for a large family. This may have been why your call was avoided-it had nothing to do with you personally and everything to do with the time of day and events in your children’s home.
The comment about calling Hatzoloh in an emergency may also have been said innocently. In an emergency, when time is of the essence, it would make sense to call Hatzoloh first and then your children (although our emotional needs when we are alone would compel us to do just the opposite). Or it may have been said defensively and as a result of feeling badly that they ignored your call and weren’t living up to their part of the agreement, or simply a defensive reaction after being caught in behaving badly toward you.
Whatever the reason, I’d like to suggest you go back to holding up your end of the agreement and give them a chance to do the same. It would be a shame to lose what you gained in a peaceful family relationship simply because on one evening, life just got in the way.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org