By: Rebecca Frager
On Mother’s Day, my sister noticed a Facebook post from our sister-in-law wishing her mother a “Happy Mother’s Day.” My sister replied to her post by saying something like, “You should tell Richard (our brother) to call his mom.” Later in the day, he responded with, “If she wants to talk to me, she can call. I’m busy working.” He then apparently later stated he was sorry for being an “ass” about it. But the call never happened. And yes, he was being an ass. It was Mother’s Day; call your mom.
OK, well there is some history there and not all good. But, in defense of my mother, she loves her children. She wasn’t the perfect mom. She had five children by the time she was 24 years old. She worked a full-time job plus extra jobs to help provide for us. She had a very sick husband who worked on and off and who was extremely demanding and patriarchal and who treated her as if she were beneath him. So, yes, she wasn’t always the nicest. She was frazzled. She was tired. She wasn’t the stay-at-home-bake-cookies-play-with-me-hug-me-and-kiss-my-booboo kind of mom. Nope. She was a when-you-get-home-do-a-load-of-laundry-get-the-roast-in-the-oven-pick-up-the-living-room-set-the-table-and-do-your-homework kind of mom. She was a clean-the-house-like-a-hurricane-on-Saturdays kind of mom with a few bouts of yelling and swear words peppered in.
She wasn’t always pleasant to be around. I didn’t like her much back then. I always wished for a loving, sweet mom, a stay-at-home mom like my friends had. In fact, I remember when my mom took vacation how much I loved coming home from school during those times because the house would be clean and smell of dinner. She was happy and relaxed during those days.
It wasn’t until I got married and began a family of my own that I began to understand her. I had three children in succession. I was working full time. I was getting the children to daycare each morning, going to work, picking them up each evening, preparing dinner for them and my husband, cleaning house, folding diapers, giving baths — you all know the drill. It’s what we do. I would often think of my mom and wonder how she did this with five!
My mom is now in her 80s. She isn’t in the best of health. She has lived a full life. Her greatest sadness is that her boys don’t call. Not on her birthday, not on her anniversary, not last summer when she was in the hospital and nursing care for two weeks, not when her husband died and not on Mother’s Day. She has attempted calling, but she doesn’t know their schedules. One brother will never contact her. I don’t even know the root of that issue. But my other brother, the one who responded to my sister, has maintained contact. My mom and her husband visited them in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago. But he doesn’t call or write. She sends birthday cards. She sends Christmas packages. She rarely, if ever, gets a response. I cringe whenever she asks me if I’ve heard from my children. I usually respond with “No news is good news, right, Mom?”
I do what I can to comfort my mom. She has me and my sister. My sister lives near my mom and stays with her three days a week to help with the chores. I spend my summers in St. Louis each year to help her out. I call her every day. We don’t always have a lot to say, and our conversations are mostly short. But the daily check-ins mean the world to her, so I do that. I feel it’s my duty as a daughter. Besides, it makes her happy, and she deserves a bit of happiness each day. I’m not obligated to do it, but I feel that an 82-year-old woman deserves to know her children think of her and care enough to call her.
I recently read an article about this issue of adult children calling parents. The article basically said that if the relationship is good, both should call. While I partially agree, I think the responsibility for keeping in contact with our parents is on us, the children. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that as a parent I took care of my children’s needs from the time they were born until they flew the nest. Their lives are busy. When I was a young mom, my life was busy. My mother didn’t know what our schedules were. If she had tried to call, she would have had to leave a message or hear the phone just ring and ring. It was more efficient for me to touch base with her.
I don’t know what my daughter’s and son’s schedules are. My daughter has a busy and large family and usually doesn’t pick up the phone. My son has a history of screening calls, so he never picks up anyway. In fact, I know they both screen their calls. If they don’t feel like talking to me when I call, they just don’t pick up. Their mailboxes are always full, so leaving a message isn’t an option. I have never asked my children to call me on a regular basis. But I feel like I am going to have to ask that of them. I send birthday gifts and Christmas gifts. I rarely get a response and usually must follow up to see if the package arrived. I shouldn’t have to do that. As far as I know, we don’t have any major issues. They know I love them. I know they love me. They are just busy living their lives.
And now I am going to be indignant. I can peruse Facebook for information. But this is one of my huge pet peeves. I hate finding out things about my grandchildren through Facebook. I’m not just another one of my daughter’s “friends.” I am her mother. I am the grandmother of her children. I shouldn’t be the last to find out about family information because I didn’t happen to see her feed that day. I shouldn’t find out her baby needed surgery on a Facebook post. I shouldn’t see the latest pictures of my grandchildren after hundreds of other people have already seen them. Seriously, last October when she delivered her baby prematurely, I saw it on Facebook. No one called. They told me they both thought someone else had made the call. That was the worst. I can tolerate private texts about my children and grandkids. But a phone call will always be more appropriate – at least more welcomed and personal.
My husband and his siblings call their mother each week – usually on Sunday. I like that. I don’t need a daily or even a weekly call, although that would be nice. Once a month would be nice. I don’t know what the right answer is here. But I am going to ask them to begin calling me on a regular basis. My mom didn’t ask me; I just did it. Maybe my kids don’t feel the need to hear from me, but I need to hear from them.
One of my favorite jokes goes like this: A young man finally called his mother after months of her not hearing from him. When she answered the phone, she sounded weak and frail. He said, “Mom, what’s going on? Are you OK?” His mother replied, “I am so weak. I haven’t eaten for days and days!” He asked, “Mom, why haven’t you eaten?” She replied, “Sweetheart, I didn’t want to have food in my mouth in case you called!”
I get it. I know there are reasons why children shouldn’t call their parents. If your parents were abusive, neglectful, or in some way harmful to you, you shouldn’t maintain those relationships. Just because you are family doesn’t mean you are obligated to be in a toxic relationship. But, if you’re just mad or angry and holding past grudges about stuff that truly doesn’t matter – let it go. Forgive the mistakes parents have made. Forgive your Mom. And, for God’s sake, unless she is evil to the core or the Spawn of Satan, just give her a call.