- Iris Arenson-Fuller
Ruffled Feathers in Oregon
Photo by david-maginley-eo4EVlv45yk-unsplash
This particular topic is one that is often brought up in various groups for widows, as well as by my own clients, or by new people just connecting to me.
Mabel T. wrote that she finds herself arguing with her adult children during their infrequent phone conversations. Two of her three kids rarely call her. Weeks go by and she gets angry that they seem to care so little about her. One son prefers to text, but it's hard for her to type on her phone. It hurts her fingers. He doesn't say much in his texts either. She says her kids don't seem to want to hear how lonely she's been since losing her husband five years ago. Her loneliness, like that of many, has been heightened during the pandemic. Mabel is retired, and doesn't get out much. She chats daily with some of her neighbors when they check their mail in the apartment lobby at the same time she does. That's about it lately. She resents her kids and feels they're selfish and she doesn't deserve their cold treatment. Her kids tell her to stop feeling sorry for herself. Two of the three don't live in her area. Their conversations are sometimes unpleasant and end up with a lot of ruffled feathers on both sides. Sometimes she doesn't hear from them for weeks. The daughter who lives in the area sees her weekly. She has told her mother that she's tired of hearing all the negativity and the complaints about her siblings. Mabel doesn't think she is especially negative. She thinks they just don't want to hear her reality. Her feelings are quite hurt and what makes it worse, is that the few friends with whom she speaks and other widows in some of the large on line groups, seem to constantly brag about how attentive their adult kids and grandkids are to them. She doesn't have any grandchildren. It makes Mabel not want to talk to anyone at times, because she is jealous and wonders what's wrong with her kids. She points out how she took care of multiple elder family members when she was younger and thought she had set a great example. She doesn't understand why her kids don't value her, or see her needs.
Coach Iris responds:
If Mabel were having a session with me, I would inquire if she has tried any other methods of being in touch with her kids. I would ask what her desired outcome would be if her kids gave her more attention. Might there be any other ways to achieve that same outcome? I would ask her what she might notice about herself if such a change occurred. Then I would inquire more specifically, if she'd be willing to explore ways to create less loneliness and more satisfaction for herself, without relying as much on the hopes that the kids would pay more attention to her. I would also ask what she thought might happen if she called them more often and if she made it a point to listen to what was going on in their lives, rather than complaining about her loneliness. Would she be willing to try that for a specified period of time just to see if it could make a difference. Does she ask what is going on in their lives? Does she express interest in their jobs or in other things in which they are involved?
I am in no way discounting Mabel's feelings of isolation and loneliness. Here's the thing, though--Expectations are often our downfall. Having them control our feelings can make us very unhappy. We continuously set ourselves up for disappointment. We can also easily alienate the very people we most want to be in our lives when we sound like a broken record and regularly air our disappointment with them.
Many younger people are very busy these days, with families and/or demanding jobs. My mother always said "the phone works both ways". Mabel could try picking up the phone and ringing her kids. She might want to ask if the time was good for them or not, and if not, ask them to suggest a better time for her to call, or for them to call back when convenient.
Sometimes humor works better than anything. Is there a way to introduce humor into the situation, either just for herself, or to share with the kids during their conversations?
I do want to say that those people who hear regularly from, or see adult kids often, are very fortunate. It's just not helpful to compare ourselves to others, or to compare our adult kids and other loved ones to others. It only makes us feel sorry for ourselves and perpetuates unhappiness and resentment on all sides. We can't expect others to make us happy. That is our own responsibility to ourselves.
If I were working with Mabel as her coach and she wanted to find more interests or activities, we would definitely explore that area. If she wanted to work more on improving her relationship with her kids, that would be her choice and there could be many routes to that goal.
All questions or discussion topics have been submitted to Coach Iris for publication on this blog, or have been shared with Iris in the past and permission has been provided to use the situations disclosed here when the contributors are identified. When contributors don't wish to be identified, initials or pseudonyms are used, and circumstances may be camouflaged to protect their privacy.
Naturally, any answers or input provided here are just opinions and without knowing the person and situation better, may or may not be a good fit for the contributor, or for every reader. The intent here is to cover topics that are typical and that come up often in the widows' community. Nothing here is meant to take the place of more in-depth work or help that some may wish to consider. Responses should not be construed as psychological, medical or legal advice.
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