I waited a really long time for my daughter to get married. I also have two sons, one of whom is married and moved close to his in-laws and, frankly, seems to have joined their family for all intents and purposes (but that’s another column!). My daughter didn’t get married until she turned 28, and those years of waiting were not easy for me. But wait I did, and then I anxiously waited until she finally told me the great news that she was pregnant. Fast-forward to today — my husband and I are proud grandparents of an eight-month-old granddaughter. We are thrilled.
However — and I know there is often a “however” — things are not the way I had hoped they would be. My list of disappointments is so long, it’s eating me up. I guess I had fantasies of my daughter turning to me for advice, for babysitting, and being asked to join them on their outings. Very little of that is happening. As if that were not bad enough, when I do go over for a visit, I am horrified at the condition of their apartment. It’s a mess. There is stuff everywhere, dirty bottles and dishes in the sink, beds unmade. I don’t even know where to put myself; it’s such an uncomfortable environment.
I looked forward to this time of my life for as far back as I can remember. Though my own mother was not very involved in my life while I was raising my own children, I had such high hopes of being the perfect mother and grandmother to my family. I feel like I’m being purposely shut out and I really don’t know why.
I would say that my relationship with my daughter was always “so-so,” but I believed that once she became a mother, we’d have so much more in common that we would finally be close and major players in one another’s lives. I know this may sound manipulative, but is there some way for me to insert myself into her life more? I have so much to offer her and our grandchild, and it’s just not being acknowledged.
In the meantime, I’m definitely feeling hurt, unnecessary, and unappreciated. Any hope for me?
Having expectations, in general, is usually the first step toward feeing “hurt, unnecessary, and unappreciated.” Of course you are no different than any other mother who dreams of being that perfect grandmother. The role of grandmother is usually so much more fun and, in some ways, more rewarding than being a mother, because you can love your grandchild to pieces, but it’s not your responsibility to necessarily discipline the child(ren). You can provide and enjoy the good times, and back away from the sometimes harsh demands of raising a child. You can be the provider of fun, advice, and wisdom without being perceived as the authoritative one.
Furthermore, regarding expectations, it’s easy to hope and believe that once your grown child gets married and has a family of her own, all the old negativity, resentments, and push-and-pull between the two of you will finally slip away, leaving space for a friendlier, comfortable camaraderie. These are all great hopes and dreams, and, sometimes they actually come true. And sometimes they don’t.
It’s understandable how, for you in particular, since your mother was far from our ideal in what she had to offer when you were a young mother, you’re anxious to do a much better job for your family. But as you’re seeing, it’s not only about the giving; it’s also about having the ability to receive. And for now, your daughter is lacking in that ability.
It’s hard to know what’s going on inside of your daughter’s head right now and why she isn’t thrilled to take advantage of your generous offers and availability. Maybe she is picking up on some judgment coming from you, certainly in regard to how she keeps her home. I’m assuming you don’t say anything outright to her regarding what her place looks like, but more than one Jewish mother has been known to show up with a bottle of Windex in one hand and a dust cloth in the other, and casually spray her way toward the couch before sitting down. Somehow, children sense what their parents are thinking, even without too many visual cues. But there could be many other factors as well; the list is endless and not even worth speculating on.
For now, your best bet is to work on your own life. Rather than sitting around waiting to be included in their activities, find ways to make your own life more interesting and exciting. Like the young woman sitting around waiting for her phone to ring with a date, you don’t want to be that mother/grandmother, waiting for an invitation. That can feel excruciating and lonely. So keep busy, do things you enjoy and that you can have control over, while still checking in with your daughter and reminding her that you’re available for babysitting or other activities should the occasion arise.
Placing the prospect of living a fulfilling life in someone else’s hands — even if that someone else is your daughter — leaves you vulnerable and open to sadness. You’ll probably never be able to fully erase your feelings of disappointment because certain expectations of the way things ought to be are natural. However, you can certainly limit the scope of pain you allow yourself to experience by limiting your expectations and filling the gap with other meaningful endeavors.
But don’t give up hope. With times, things often change. Perhaps once your daughter is on to child number two or three, she may suddenly remember that she has an amazing mother waiting in the wings who can lend a helping hand and provide lots of love. Until then, or even if that never happens, know that you did the best that you could and that life is full of opportunities to help, give, and love deeply.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.