Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Six months ago was my 20th anniversary; things are just coasting along between us, and he doesn’t want to address it, including joint counseling. Four months ago: son’s 18th birthday. A nice family party. Two months ago: daughter’s 16th birthday, which my husband took the lead on. They’ve always been close. Two weeks ago: my 50th birthday. I’d mentioned it a couple of times beforehand. There was some subterfuge during the week, which I thought indicated a surprise dinner/party (we’d had one for my husband). So I booked myself a nice massage for the day and kept the evening open. Kids let me know not to plan anything since they would both be out.
You already know where this is going, don’t you? They all forgot. I spent the evening at home with a book and took the dog for a walk. This came to a head last week, when my daughter baked treats for her friend’s surprise 16th birthday. As I was driving her to the party, she got a funny look on her face and said, Mom, when’s your birthday? And I answered, last week. When I got home, my son asked what I wanted to do for my birthday (she must have texted him). And I said: It’s too late.
How do I let this go? I have great, healthy kids who are KIDS and have their own lives/plans. I remember how self-absorbed I was at that age. I haven’t said boo to my husband, because that wouldn’t do anything but start a fight. Yes, they should have remembered, but they didn’t. Help.
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Let It Go
I’m sorry. As you know, it’s not about cake, it’s about being treated like wallpaper in the lives of the ones you love most. It’s an exquisitely painful moment, as anyone who has been there will recognize – and, if it helps, many of us have been there. That moment can come when you’re a kid watching other family members get favored, when you have roommates who like each other more than they like you, when you’re a parent and your kids take-take-take as if you’re more Coke machine than human.
And it can come when you’re married and your spouse’s attention is on kids, job, family of origin, pets, causes anything but you.
Letting it go isn’t the answer, because there’s no single answer.
For the marriage portion, I suggest counseling, without him if you must. Start talking this out in a purposeful way before you “coast” off a cliff.
For the kids, I suggest what you’ve come to on your own: Accept they’re at an age where they miss this stuff. The fact that they’re on it now, feeling sheepish, is a good and important sign.
For this and future birthdays, I suggest you reverse the “too late” declaration and take the reins. Figure out what you want, and do it. A family outing? A weekend away just for you? A nostalgic favorite?
And for the root issue, I suggest thinking big. One phase of your life is nearing a close. Take this birthday epiphany as a hint to start planning the next phase, where your kids don’t define your days. How do you see yourself then?
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