Mother's Day before last, I met him and his girlfriend for brunch. He seemed nervous. After we'd ordered, he gave me my card. I thanked them. "Open it," he urged.
Inside was an ultrasound.
I have always hoped that both of sons will, as adults, find loving, positive, supportive partners with whom to share their lives. But holy heck, I still fell off my chair. My son, a junior in college, just told me he was going to be a dad.
Afterwards, we walked out to our separate cars. I drove home in a daze. On the way, I stopped at a convenience store and bought a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. I'd quit smoking a year before, and drink only coffee and tea since being diagnosed with diabetes six years ago.
Except that week.
I was alone at our cabin that weekend, so I called my three best girlfriends, all of whom have children in their teens or older.
"What do I do now?" I asked. "This is my first grandchild. I should be ecstatic. But my heart is breaking."
That was just over a year and a half ago. It's been a tough go, for all of us, I think. My son's college pursuit just kinda unraveled. So he quit. My husband and I refused to continue paying their apartment rent at school if he was no longer attending classes. They gave notice on their apartment, put most of their belongings in storage, and moved the three hours from their forest college town to our big, busy city in the desert.
She moved with the baby to her parent's home. There was no room there for my son or their two dogs, so he moved back into his old room with us.
They've been living separately for a month and a half now.
His girlfriend says I'm making it easy for him to slack off. She accuses me of being a helicopter parent and orders me not to do his laundry. Says "Make him do chores. Pay rent. Or kick him out. Make him get a job."
Her mother and father tell him he must find full-time work immediately, any kind of work, and start supporting his girlfriend and their year-old son. Her parents want their house back, sans infant, no matter how much they love their daughter and grandson.
I've offered repeatedly to make space for all three of them here. We have extra rooms and would simply have to re-allocate the space, and baby-proof the house, which my husband and I are both willing to do. But how hard does one push when extending an offer that obviously isn't welcomed? So we backed off.
In the midst of this stressful time, I remind myself that this week is the 1-year anniversary of my stroke. Stress. Stroke. Stress. Stroke. No matter the other extraneous circumstances, I know my own brain, my own heart, better than anyone else. I know, beyond any doubt, that for me, stress and stroke were related. To stay healthy, I now consciously manage my stress. You know the saying…."give me the strength to change the things I can, and say 'go to hell' to all the things I can't."
This year, instead of stressing over our current circumstances, I choose to be thankful.
First, I'm thankful that the spawn's dogs bonded with ours. This last month would have been hell if our five pets (we have two cats also) couldn't live together. But our dog, Teak, is overjoyed to be living in a pack. The cats, not so much. But, other than the exponential increase of animal fur in the house, we're getting along great.
Second, OMG!!! I am so, so happy to be alive with my brain mostly intact. I was so lucky. I am thankful for my health every single day now, and will never take it for granted again.
Third and final, I'm thankful that our little family is going to be together for Thanksgiving, for the first time in several years. I'm not only hosting our family, but other close friends, including a couple with month-old twins. We have enough guests to have dinner at home this year, instead of going out to Mimi's Café, as we have done in recent years. Dining out on Thanksgiving, for me, was a substitute for the festivities lacking at home on this holiday. So this year, I am thankful that we are celebrating as a family. Dysfunctional perhaps. But together.
Spending an afternoon eating and laughing, hugging babies and changing diapers. Walking the pack of dogs that are part of our temporarily blended family. Complaining about eating too much, and dividing up the leftovers so everyone goes home with a sack. This is fun. It's fulfilling. It's love.
But if this one afternoon stretches into weeks, does the togetherness, support, and sharing equate to helicoptering? Will our son be able to strike out on his own, or have we spoiled him to the point that he'll never want to be independent?
University of Texas psychologist Karen Fingerman, having conducted a number of studies on adult parent-child relationships, published a study with several collaborators (2012) in the well-respected Journal of Marriage and the Family to put the helicopter theory to the test.
The research team theorized that many young adult children today need their parents to help them through the so-called “emerging adult” years between 18 and 29. Not only are many young adults finding it difficult to make it economically, but they may also be experiencing emotional strains of finding their identities. They don’t necessarily expect their parents to support them, but they’re finding it rough to make it on their own.
Parents, for their part, sensing that their children are hurting, often want to reach out and provide them with emotional, if not practical, support.
But instead of feeling smothered, the children receiving help were higher in life satisfaction and, surprisingly, strength of their own personal goals. It is possible that the reason they found this support so helpful was that they were in a life stage when the continued help of their parents could ease their adjustment into adulthood
The hard part, of course, is how to separate from our children's problems without separating from them, and how to be a positive force in their lives while getting on with our own.
And that's what I'm doing—getting on with my own life, while making room in my heart for those I love. Loving unconditionally. Remaining openhearted to my children and their partners, estranged or not, difficult as it is. Inviting contact, expressing love, with no expectation or insistences.
For now, we'll leave the porch light on with a key under the mat.
You will always be welcome.