Dear Carolyn: My son knows that a card says a lot. Last year, my Mother’s Day card was just basic from my son, grandkids and daughter-in-law. I didn’t say anything. This year my grandson is 5 and he made a card, which was thoughtful but not from my son.
Now reread the first sentence. I have discussed this with my son in the past and I am really disappointed and hurt that he thinks that card would take the place of one from him. He’s 42 and also thinks a text is good enough for a happy birthday, etc. But Mother’s Day – I was a single mom and I gave him a wonderful upbringing and all I ask for is a card. I don’t want to say anything since this subject was already talked about.
Also I live in Florida and he lives in Virginia and has two small boys, 5 and 2, who I don’t see much. What should I do.
Hurt in Florida
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You can stop feeling sorry for yourself, for starters.
You asked me to reread the first sentence, but I went hog wild and reread the second sentence, too. Allow me to fluff it up with italics:
(BEG ITAL)Last year, my Mother’s Day card was just basic from my son, grandkids and daughter-in-law.(END ITAL)
You got a card last year! But it was not good enough.
And you got a card this year! But it was not good enough.
You are not going to like hearing this, though please be assured I sincerely do want to help you see your grandkids more: No one wants to visit people who find fault with everything. Especially with gestures intended to please you.
Multiply that lack of motivation to visit by 11 when it involves air travel and kids under 6.
People like to feel appreciated – as you well know, right? Since your whole complaint is that your son doesn’t show his appreciation of you exactly the way you instructed him to?
So flip that around. He sends you cards, as you requested, and you don’t appreciate him for his effort. Oh boy does that get old.
If you want to cultivate a close relationship with your son and his young family – and reap all that comes with it, from visits to cards to (BEG ITAL)genuine warmth and affection(END ITAL) to whatever displays of appreciation come naturally to your boy – then you need to replace the self-pity and disappointment with unpursed lips and gratitude that reflect awareness of what you actually did receive. Example for last year: “You remembered a card! You know how much that means to me, thank you.” Example for this year: “Homemade cards are the best! Thank you.”
And next year or some other year in the future when he forgets to send a card, since cards apparently are not his natural way of showing his appreciation? That’s the best time to flex your anti-self-pity muscles, by considering that maybe he’s caught up in his own family – which, instead of a slap in the face to you, could be a monument to all you did for him. Maybe, having learned how important your devotion and hard work were to him, he’s pouring these things into his own children now. If so, bravo.
Which brings me to the phrasing you may have noticed I repeated in my answer: his natural way of showing he appreciates you. You want cards, yes, as I’m sure he knows. And it might seem to you like such a simple thing that there’s no excuse for his not sending them for every occasion. However, people are most successful at being themselves – and their success rate at everything else is going to fall off sharply from there.
What that means is an occasion-attentive card-sender will send cards like clockwork, while the people who aren’t as caught up in special occasions or greeting cards will send them … sometimes, when they remember. But they might also send funny texts for no reason, or put their kids on Skype for you, or forgive your foibles, or go silent for weeks but be the first to fly in to hold your hand through a scary appointment.
What is great about your son, and your relationship with him? Think for a second. Now hold it in your mind. Now say to yourself: When I harrumph about cards, I automatically devalue this great thing about him.
We all have a choice. We can make ourselves miserable wanting what we don’t receive, or we can appreciate what we get. And when we don’t receive enough, we can choose to blame others for shorting us, or we can crank up what we ourselves give – either to the objects of our frustration or to others who can better provide what we need.
So if you ache for grandkids, board a plane, or just reply to the 5-year-old with a handmade card of your own. A mantra worth adopting: Corrections, no; kindness, yes.
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