When Tamra was in first grade and just learning how to write, she wrote the note above. It was on a day when I was particularly busy and/or distracted and I guess she was asking me to do something for her or with her and I just didn’t have the time at that moment. She asked repeatedly (you know how some kids are broken records when it comes to that sort of thing) so at some point I guess I just FIRMLY told her to stop asking because I just didn’t have the time to help her just then. I wasn’t much of a screamer (believe it or not with three kids) so my very firm answer probably scared the crap out of her. She disappeared into her room and wrote the note (in crayon and not in a pretty color so it really ripped my heart out) and slipped it under the door. “You’ve hlepd me enough” was her way of saying with a bit of an angry attitude, that she didn’t need me after all, she’d figure out whatever it was on her own. And, I suppose she did because she’s 28 now and just fine.
But, it makes me wonder — what is enough when it comes to being a parent? Look, I know I’m somewhat annoying, and way too much in everyone’s business, and a bit over-functioning as a mom. I send too many meant-to-be-helpful emails about job openings. I offer opinions even when I’m not asked. I give unsolicited advice despite the hundreds of times I’ve explained to my girls that no one really wants advice. And while I can easily identify my friends who suffer from the same affliction (I’d name you but you all know who you are), and swear I’m not as bad as they are, I admit I am an addict and could probably benefit from a 12-step program for mothers of adult children who can’t back off.
But, secretly — well not so secretly because I’m putting it on this blog– I do it because I believe I’m helping my daughters and that I still have wisdom worth imparting. I don’t think I’ve yet “hlepd” them enough.
Girls? What do you suggest to us moms who may be confused about when enough is enough?
First of all, I’m 27, and for that matter, if anyone asks, I’m 21, so let’s just set that straight.
I think that if you are going to be an overbearing mother, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of you out there, that you need to at least be prepared to have people be annoyed with you. People don’t generally like to be told what to do, especially if they didn’t ask. Since I am not currently in an argument about something that I didn’t ask for advice about, I guess I am able to think more rationally, but I think that a lot of times, I want the advice, I just don’t want it when it’s being told to me. I want to hear it, I want to complain about hearing it and get angry, and then later, when I’m ready, I can think about it and decide what to do. The fact that you overbearing mothers sometimes expect instant gratification when you’ve butted in, is really not a realistic expectation.
My advice, not that you asked, is continue to give the advice, but know when you’ve really crossed your boundary, and don’t expect to be greeted with open arms and lots of gratitude, at least not right away.
When people feel like they are in crisis, the last thing they want to hear (at least for me), is someone’s simple solution. When you feel like your world is crashing down, sometimes you just want someone to say, “You’re right, your life is a mess, how do you go on each day?” Rather than some rational “take action” advice, which I’ll probably do after I have a meltdown. I think if mothers are able to keep a good boundary, they might even find that their children actually ask them for advice before they have to butt in.
I guess I was a little premature to declare at the age of 6 that I had enough hlep. I think everyone always wants hlep, whether they think they do or not. My advice (again, who’s asking?), tread lightly, and just don’t get too frustrated when you get hung up on or receive a nasty email about how you are ruining your child’s life and owe them for all of the therapy sessions they’re going to need.
Again, I’m not 28.
Alexis writes: Judy Gold (a comedian who is also a lesbian) once said this about her children “I feel bad for my kids. I mean they have two Jewish mothers, wouldn’t you kill yourself?” It’s true that mothers get a bad rap for being too involved in their children’s lives. But it’s hard, they’re mothers, are they supposed to just stand by and watch their children make horrific mistakes?
I think giving advice is a lot like being a good comedian– it’s all about delivery and timing. Even the funniest joke can be completely unfunny if told at the wrong time. Advice is the same way. I agree with Tamra that when we children confide in our parents about things, we are probably (at least indirectly) asking them to weigh in about the issue, even if we don’t realize it. But even the best piece of advice can be misconstrued into the rudest comment if it’s not discussed at the right time. Tamra is right about instant gratification, mothers are not comedians who will be getting a laugh instantaneously proving that what they said was good. Chances are the closest thing to instant response the advice-giving mom is going to get is an abrupt hang-up.
It’s our instinct as adult children to prove to our parents that we can take care of ourselves. I think that sometimes people feel that if they need to ask their parents for help all the time, they’re not really independent. And let’s face it–there are plenty of adult children out there who rely too heavily on their parents. So it’s a slippery slope for us too. If we need your advice all the time are we really mature, functioning adults? Try to keep that in mind when you talk to us.
So, mothers, my advice for you is to weigh your words carefully. Try to dispense your life lessons in a way that doesn’t make a person feel like if they don’t take your advice you’re judging them harshly (which you probably are but you can pretend you’re not). Watch your timing and delivery, and try not to get too upset about putting us in therapy (if we have health insurance it’s not that big of a deal). You’re a parent so it’s your job to guide us.
By the way, Mom, tell Tamra she’s not 21. She might need some advice about embracing her age.
Mom writes: Well, first, I did screw up remembering Tamra’s age correctly. And secondly, I’m pretty sure it’s that kind of advice that might elicit a less-than-grateful response from Tam.
I usually like to weigh in after everyone has given their opinion and although Shira has not yet responded, it seems that you all have a pretty good bead on the over-functioning parent. All three of you tell us a lot of stuff, so deep down you probably want our opinions. Your mom and I often say that none of you initially takes our advice, because you need a little time to think about what we suggest. I can’t say that you always do what we say, but I respect most of your decisions. When I stick my two cents in (I actually think my advice is worth at least double that), I try to make a point of not really getting too emotionally involved in your responses because it’s not going to be pretty and I want to avoid an argument. I try to get in and out of there quickly. But your posts show how wise you have become, probably from listening to our good advice. So maybe I should start asking for your advice. Maybe not. And really, I think I have hleped you enough.
Tamra writes: Your mom.
Ned writes: Tamra, don’t get me started.