I’m in my late fifties and lost my husband three years ago. We had a terrific marriage for many years, and I was happy being his wife. His illness and subsequent passing was horrific, something I hadn’t seen coming, and a terrible tragedy for all of us. However, at this point, though I miss him terribly every day and wish he were still alive, I’m not lonely or miserable.
I have been creating a new normal for myself, and I have adjusted to and am even enjoying my new life. I am not sitting at home mourning him day and night. I do some fulfilling volunteer work, I have many friends I spend time with, and I continue entertaining on Shabbos for my children and friends as before.
I have to admit that I’m getting into the idea of being free as a bird during the week. If I want to stay up until 3 a.m. reading a great book and sleep the next morning until 11 a.m., no one is there to stop me and I really enjoy it. If I don’t feel like cooking or eating a proper dinner, I’ll run out for a yogurt and be perfectly content. I make decisions for myself and don’t have to check in with anyone to get their approval of even agreement.
My life right now is working for me. Yes, I miss my wonderful husband. But I’m happy and don’t want to change my life at all. Many years from now, I may feel differently, but for the moment, this feels pretty good to me.
However, my three children are literally harassing me to start dating. They are constantly mentioning names — such as the father or uncle of one of their friends or neighbors — with whom they would like to set me up. One even had the audacity to put my name and photo on a dating website, which I quickly removed. They don’t seem to understand that I’m happy and truly don’t want to meet a man right now.
They tell me they are worried about me being alone. Honestly, I’m alone when I want to be. If I don’t want to be alone, I’ll call one of my many wonderful friends. My kids can’t seem to understand this and don’t leave me alone. Even worse, they call and check in on me constantly. If they can’t “track me down,” they get nervous and start calling one another to figure out where I am. It’s as if I can’t go to a movie and shut off my phone without reporting to them.
I know there are probably some women who would be jealous of the attention and concern that my children show me. And I’m grateful that they love and care about me. But I’m feeling smothered right now and they can’t seem to believe me when I say that life is good for now and that they have to trust me when I say I’m OK.
What is going on here? Why are they unable to believe me? And most important, how can I get them to trust me that, thank G-d, they don’t need to worry about me and that they should back off, at least a little?
You’re right when you say that many women reading this column will immediately envy you for having such loving and dedicated children who are so invested in protecting you and making sure that you’re doing well. Too many parents complain about the opposite scenario — children so wrapped up in their own lives that they fail to show up for their parents in a way that feels loving or caring. I think you do recognize how blessed you are to have such thoughtful children. But too much of anything, even a great thing, can still feel overwhelming and smothering.
Your children seem unable to truly hear you or believe what you tell them. They are projecting onto you their feelings about the loss you all sustained, and are making assumptions about how you must be feeling and what you probably truly desire. People often don’t take the time to really listen to the other, just believing they know what the other is thinking. This is a big mistake, whenever and wherever it happens. No one can assume that they have the ability to truly know another person’s experience. We’re all different and we all process life events in our own personal way.
It appears your children believe they know what is best for you at this time in your life. And their assumptions aren’t outlandish — most women in your position probably would want to meet a fabulous man. Furthermore, their reality regarding you is that of a happily married woman, since that’s what they saw growing up in your home. Since they only know you in that context, it’s probably hard for them to trust, believe, or adjust to your new identity. And maybe it’s even a stretch for them to accept that you can “do life” alone, rather than with a partner next to you to help guide you and protect you.
And let’s not overlook the obvious. They miss their father and are probably still grieving their loss to a certain extent. They miss their “parents,” that happily married couple that helped to complete their intact family. They miss the “before” and perhaps believe that if you remarried, life could, to a certain extent, go back to a variation of what it once was. We all have fantasies …
Meanwhile, all you can do is continue to reassure them that you’re doing fine, but that you definitely appreciate their caring and thoughtfulness. You never want that to go away. You seem to have adjusted much quicker than they have, but they’ll catch up eventually. And by then, who knows — you may be ready to start dating!
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.